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Above the Snowline Paperback – 13 Apr 2017
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Swainston paints a world that is vividly rendered, detailed and surprisingly gritty. Imaginative, inventive and wholly thrilling stuff--SCI FI NOW
Swainston combines light and dark, gore and grime with cheeky humour--SFX
Steph Swainston's writing is as elegantly superior to most other fantasy as a samurai sword is to a flint dagger
Honest-to-god unputdownable. A blistering debut
A joy to read, it is bursting at the seams with ideas. The Year of Our War is the first book that makes you believe New Weird actually is a movement, rather than a bunch of books China Mieville likes. A Mieville quote appears prominently on the cover where he describes the book as "thoughtful, exuberant, incredibly inventive, funny but never whimsical or mannered." This is true and it doubles as a kind of manifesto pledge for New Weird--SF SITE
A stunning fantasy, and the most incredible thing about it is that it is a first novel... The setting is impeccably realised, with a deftness of touch and a genius for description which would be impressive in an author of considerably greater experience - of the current crop of British fantasy writers, only China MiÃ(c)ville can touch this level of brilliance. In fifty years time, people are still going to be reading this book and talking about it the way we talk about Gormengast--INK MAGAZINE
This is the book Steph Swainston's fans have been waiting for. A prequel to the Castle novels.See all Product description
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Jant becomes involved in this debacle when one of the Rhydanne (Dellin) travels to the Castle to petition the Emperor for aid.
That aid comes in the form of our flying diplomat, Jant.
So, that's the premise in a nutshell, but is the story any good? Personally, I thought it the weakest of Steph's efforts so far as I didn't feel it revealed why Jant is the way he is. Assuming of course that our past defines our present and we're all an amalgam of experiences old and new, I just didn't get the point in telling a story that doesn't define why Jant became the immortal he did. I wanted to read an early experience of his and say to myself: ah yes, that could suggest why he's like that or does this. Maybe I just had trouble connecting the dots; or maybe my expectations for the book were way off kilter, or maybe even I'm being way too subjective - whichever it is I couldn't ignore the growing disappointment as I read through the book.
Right - here comes the "however"...
Having said that, the writing is as accomplished as ever; being at times poetically savage and unapologetically brutal, it has the power to keep the pages turning. The story also jumps around with the points of view; instead of being completely inside Jant's head we get to experience situations through others' perspective. On the one hand this is a good thing; I thoroughly enjoyed reading the sections that weren't Jant. Indeed, probably too much as it seems to have had the unfortunate affect of turning me off him.
There's good reason for this, as even when the story shifts to his POV he fails to redeem himself. Far from being the polymath diplomat-cum-emissary he believes himself to be, his actions - both from his POV and particularly when viewed from another's - drastically contravene his boasts. For example: he is attracted to Dellin so therefore is biased in how he deals with poor old Raven. Even when the Rhydanne murder and cannibalise Ravens men Jant doesn't seem that bothered, and flits from pillar to post making a complete mess of everything; having to run to Lightning to request he sort it all out.
Perhaps this was an intentional move by Steph to show how inexperienced Jant was in his first century as opposed to how slick he is now. Perhaps but it doesn't make me like him any better.
I guess it's a personal thing as I was far more interested in Raven and his hardships than I was any other strand of the story. But what can I say; I was turned off Jant and felt sorry for Raven - so what can you do? That by no means makes this a bad story, just one I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would. I've pointed out the writing remains head and shoulders above most novels out there today (at least the ones I try) and this is never more evident than in the speeches Dellin orates to her people. Eloquently written/argued and really leave an impression with echoes perhaps of our own folly, warning as they do the dangers of becoming dependent upon people who favour profit above all else.
So my impression that Above the Snowline is a tad below par remains firm, but has also whetted my appetite for where Steph will take us next in the Fourlands. With such a rich and vibrant; gritty and challenging world, full of plenty of complex immortals and mortals alike I think there's so much more to come and would still recommend her as one of the finest reads out there today.
A prequel to In the Year of Our War, this story features Jant, the winged immortal, tasked with travelling to Darkling, one of the Fourlands, to mediate a dispute between the Awians (essentially winged, but flightless people) and the Rhydanne (cat-like people). Jant just happens to be a mongrel of both races and has a distinct hatred of the Rhydanne because of how they cast him out because of his Awian attributes. Yet all it takes is one pretty face and determined spirit for Jant to fall in love, and that comes in the form of the widowed Shira Dellin who petitions the Emperor for aid when the Awians in Darkling steal the hunting grounds of the Rhydanne.
It's a charged situation, complicated by the fact that the governor of the area, Raven, has other plans in mind and sees the Rhydanne as less than human.
And the tragedy unfolds.
There's less humour in this story and more politics than usual but it is a page-turner and well worth reading.
I didn't enjoy this one as much though. I can understand what the author is up to - this is an opportunity to explore Jant's earlier life and some events that have influenced his character. And the changes of viewpoint let us see Jant as others see him, which is interesting.
But the changing viewpoints interrupt the flow of the story, I think we hear from too many different people and their voices are not really distinct enough. Overall it's not the exciting page-turner that the other books are.