Pyr (345 pages, Trade Paperback, March 2009, $15.98)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
Midwinter is the debut novel from comics writer Matthew Sturges, and it has elves in it. In fact, it’s all about elves, taking place as it does in the land of faerie. But these elves, dear reader, are not your Daddy’s elves — or, more to the point, they are not the sort of derivative elves that tend to find their way into the fiction of writers who have trouble thinking outside their last D&D campaign. Midwinter’s Fae, in all their variety, are much more reminiscent of the Sidhe of Celtic myth that is clearly Sturges’ jumping off point, perhaps with a bit of Tolkien and Moorcock thrown in for good measure. Those who can’t stand heavily derivative fantasy need not worry — in fact, it’s Sturges’ willingness to play with tropes and inject his tale with the unexpected that is the main attraction of his world.
For an example of one of those ‘sit up on the edge of your seat and take notice’ turns, we have an event that occurs early in the book. The premise of the quest is established quickly, and this ‘dirty dozen with elves,’ as Sturges has described the book, kicks off in much the expected direction. We are introduced to disgraced Guard Captain Mauritane, in prison, as well as his despised enemy — a Fae who conspired to bring him down in the first place. The quest is laid out (though not explained — the revelation of the true purpose of the quest isn’t provided until the end), and Mauritane’s team of fellow prisoners assembled. But just when you think the direction of things is all mapped out, Mauritane, seemingly as an aside, ends up traveling back in time (!) and participating in an episode the significance of which is only shown later. Throughout the novel Sturges shows a willingness to make a hard right without taking his foot of the gas — leaving some rubber on the road and, just maybe, making a few white-knuckled passengers uncomfortable — in a way that reminded me of the more daring and fluid fantasies of the past.