Stephen Almekinder

Hard Shell Word Factory / 276 pages / April 1999

ISBN: 1582005478

There are addictions to match every personality and every situation. Addictions multiply in a stagnant society… or, maybe addictions result in a stagnant society. The origins are often as difficult to understand as the results. On Winterhold, the race to dissolution is a contest between chemicals and rituals; alone or united, they are capable of dragging the civilisation into ruin. If the craving for power does not destroy them all first.

Winterhold is a world locked in an eternal grip of ice and torn apart by conflicts lost to time and memory. This is a divided realm with neither half having the will or the strength to reunite the monarchy. With the King/Lord in his Camp and the Queen/Lady in her Hold, it is an uneasy peace at best. A labyrinthine body of Rituals has evolved to fill the void created by the division. The true power in Winterhold rests in the hands of the Interpreters. Every decision, every action, is dictated by the rigid system of Rituals and those Rituals are controlled by the drug-addicted Interpreters.

Obviously, if there is ever to be a change, it must come from outside that closed circle.

Alisande, the current Queen/Lady, is weary of the duties of office. She is little more than a life-sized mannequin for the endless demands of ceremonies, without will or dignity. Some of these Rituals are especially degrading. More and more, she longs to put a stop to the Rituals or, at the very least, end her part in them — much to the disgust of her “handlers” and the concern of Cyln, her brutally faithful bodyguard.

Nordseth, the soon-to-be-deceased King/Lord, fights to maintain his power, even as his physical strength fails. He has far-reaching plans to fortify what control he has in the Hold. It doesn’t bode well that the warrior closest to him has his own ideas about who should rule. Not to mention that the young man he has selected to be the Queen/Lady’s next consort is not the kind to follow anything blindly, except his heart.

Winterhold is, in itself, an addictive substance. Although the start is somewhat slow, the reader is carefully drawn in until the hold of the storyline has a firm hook. You start out thinking you can take it or leave it and progress until you are sneaking away to snatch a page whenever possible. Almekinder’s plotting is insidious and hard to resist, making for a compulsive read by the mid-point of the book.

You may love the characters or hate them, but you need to know how it all turns out. Well, to learn that, you may have to wait for the next instalment in the saga; Almekinder has set his tale up nicely for a sequel or two. Many questions remain unanswered after the final page, and these are mysteries that may rankle if left unsolved.

Winterhold is a frozen world, but far from frigid. Give it the slightest chance and it will ice down your Summer.