Tag: mystery

Of unicorns and moonstones: the tale of Winterhued

Of unicorns and moonstones: the tale of Winterhued

Winterhued: A glorious first novel by E.H. Alger

I don’t normally post reviews on my blog, but occasionally a book crosses my path that I want to share with those who love fantasy as much as I do. Winterhued is one such book.

The path to discovering independent authors is difficult. Their books aren’t easily available in book stores. Online search results are weighted towards known books. Sometimes a little luck and a dash of magic are needed to uncover new and wonderful writing.

A dash of magic…

Since the publication of Harlequin’s Riddle I’ve attended various festivals, conferences and markets. Recently I attended Golden Owl Event’s Mythical Market, a magical day out in the Dandenong Ranges. Stallholders and market-goers alike wore costumes: there were fairies, unicorns and other mythical beings roaming everywhere.

One attendee wore an outstanding steampunk outfit. Being a costumer myself I couldn’t help but admire her costuming skill. The conversation soon turned to books, and how difficult it is to be noticed as an author when you aren’t published by one of the big publishers. We each talked about the stories we had written. Before I knew it, I was holding Winterhued in my hands.

First impressions

Winterhued is a stunning book. At 464 pages and trade paperback dimensions it feels solid, promising a substantial read. The cover is immediately intriguing. A tired looking knight seems to be returning from weary travels, and a looming dragon perches, almost camouflaged, above the broken window. Illuminated scrollwork decorates each chapter title. Section dividers depict various characters and items that appear in the book. And, like all good fantasy, there is a detailed map to orient the reader to the world.

Before turning to novel writing, E.H. Alger worked as an illustrator for many of the big publishing houses, and her eye for design is evident in the beauty of this book as a physical artifact.

The tale of Winterhued

Princess Winterhued lives with her father in Castle Lawhill. Though she is wise and just, loved by her people, her father is self-centred and bitter, clinging to the throne to the detriment of all. King Gers is a despot, unable to accept his waning faculties. Worse, his advisors are trying to turn him against his daughter. He is even considering taking a new wife in hopes of fathering a male heir.

When an unseen creature attacks the castle matters the conflict between Gers and his daughter worsens. Half the castle lies in ruins and many of its people are dead. Strong leadership is needed, but Winterhued’s father can think only of himself, and undermines any of his daughter’s efforts. It soon becomes apparent that the whispers are true. The castle was attacked by a dragon, and the beast is still in the area. Trapped within the broken castle, Winterhued seeks help from a lowly servant-boy. Her plan might be their only chance to escape alive.

Fantasy that takes its time

Writing, as with food and fashion and home decorating, has waves of fashion. What is being published now tends to be minimalist. Publishers tell aspiring authors to delete all adverbs, avoid long descriptions, and dive straight into the action. Stories move at a fast pace. Once upon a time fantasy wasn’t like this. It took its time. It lovingly built worlds and drew the reader deep into them. Reading fantasy such as that by Tolkien was like going on a boat journey. Part of the pleasure was in the travel. Now, we often fly by plane when we read, racing through the story at speed.

A moonstone pendant plays an important role in the story. Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

Winterhued is a novel in the best tradition of Tolkien-esque fantasy. The world is lovingly, carefully wrought. A dazzling cast of characters people the land of Manydown. The reader has to pay careful attention to understand who is who and how they are connected. At first the tale moves around the castle, showing the experiences of those who have survived the dragon’s attack. Like a tapestry woven from many bright colours, the pattern is indiscernible at first. Patience is required as the field is prepared, then the picture starts to emerge, layer upon layer.

Questions arise as the elements of the story are laid down. What is the significance of the moonstone necklace? Who is the unnamed knight who is making his weary way towards Lawhill? What is the hidden grief in Winterhued’s heart? Finally, in the most satisfying way, the whole becomes clear.

A tale to cherish

Being used to more minimalist modern fantasy, it took me a few chapters to acclimatise to a book with a different pace. Initially I struggled with the use of medieval-style dialogue. But the beauty of the writing quickly drew me in and I found myself immersed more and more in the tale. I wasn’t reading to reach a destination, the denouement of the story or the solution to the mystery. I was reading because I cared deeply about Winterhued and Brenn, Ancaios and the unnamed knight. Because the land of Manydown had come alive in my mind. And because every word, every chapter was a joyous pleasure. And that, I think, is true magic.