Read the damn prologue.
Not often I say that but for The Wolf of Winter it actually is good advice. For one, it is really short. Like a single page short. And it appears to be a simple piece of random world building that gives the history of a simple title used throughout the book; Ulor, the leader of the people of Rhazaulle. But it matters people! It has implications to the larger story! Without, and this is important, giving anything away until the author is ready for everything to come together.
And then leaves you feeling stupid for not catching some of the little details.
The Wolf of Winter is a story that appears to have some influence from Russian culture, or at least an American’s understanding of what fantasy influenced by Russian culture should look like. I will be honest, not my area of history. The story, despite what the back cover says, is about a man named Varis who is the brother of current Ulor and far back in the succession line. Weak in stature and with watery eyes he begs off to live in seclusion where he discovers a path to the art of necromancy. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first half of this book is something of a mind twist. It isn’t that Varis path is trippy or random or hard to follow, it is actually pretty strait forward. The problem is Varis isn’t a complex character but we were given an opportunity to think he is. As he starts a single minded campaign to eliminate the entire line of succession that lays in front of him (with the aid of the trapped spirits his new magic allows him to control) and it is impossible to turn away. This is the bullied young man we thought we would be rooting for? Oh god, he wouldn’t….oh shit he just did. What is he going to do next!?
Time for part two, which if you read the back cover you know will involve young Shalindra, niece to Varis. If you have not read the back cover then don’t, the events it suggests make up the main portion of the plot don’t occur until the last forty pages of the book (we could revisit back cover blurbs here but that is a conversation for another day). Shalindra gives us a protagonist to actually root for and a completely new direction in plot. It keeps the same strength of plotting and wonderful use of language from the first half; never racing yet avoiding being dull by skipping the tedious details that just don’t matter.
As an overall experience this as a very quality read. Great imagery and quick moving, it also had a very unique take on necromancy. But taken in pieces it was at times jarring in its transitions. Time jumps are hit and miss, but very distinct changes in tone are a little rougher. As well Shalindra never really captured me quite the same way Varis did, despite having the more admirable path and being much more likable. This, for me at least, meant the book climaxed about half way through with only the final pages finally bringing my interest all the way back around.