WINTERWOOD: Rowankind Book One by Jacey Bedford (cover art Larry Rostant, all rights retained by current holder — and yes, it’s another cover with a Staring Protagonist) is a frustrating example of a book that just doesn’t click with me. Which is not to say I didn’t learn from it
THE STORY: It’s 1800. Rossalinde Tremayne, a wizard and widowed pirate captain, returns to her dying mother only to be saddled with a mysterious box of impenetrable winterwood. Oh, and with a brother she didn’t know she had who’s half-rowankind, a fae treepeople who serve as English slaves. Narrowly escaping the forces hunting her, Ross returns to sea, only to discover the hunt isn’t over. Because that box is very, very important ….
WHAT I LEARNED:
•Women doing things is more interesting than women just wanting to do things. I’ve written before about how I hate women who’s main trait is not wanting to conform to gender stereotypes. And that I’d rather see them doing stuff than grumbling about how patriarchy stops them doing stuff. Ross actually does stuff. She’s a pirate captain and we have very little “but you’re a woman!” nor is the fact that she’s unconventional meant to win us over by itself. That’s nice.
•Having other women do things would be nice too. There are some powerful female fae but once Ross leaves her dying mum, she’s pretty much in an all-male world. With such a strong lead, that’s disappointing.
•Backstory is often tedious. I read a book once that said all backstory should be left until after the first half of the book if you need it at all. I don’t know I’d go that far, but we get several people explaining their history and most of the time I didn’t need it. There’s one Southern pirate who hooks up with Ross and for some reason Bedford gives the story of how he went to sea. He’s not a central character, there’s really no need to know this (unlike Ross’s brother David, whose backstory is important). Of course, a lot of people complain I should give more backstory in my writing, so maybe I’m in a minority.
•Errors are forgivable, but not on big things. Ross’s ghostly husband Will is her constant companion. In one scene, he’s able to influence her body enough that they can have sex. So why a few chapters later is she bemoaning that sex is the one thing Will can no longer give her?
•Slavery doesn’t have to be a metaphor. I’ve read a couple of blog posts recently complaining that using mutants/mages/ETs as a discriminated minority or a metaphor for real-world discrimination is a bad thing (something I hope to discuss in a post of my own). First, because it’s not an exact analogy (victims of discrimination aren’t alien/monstrous/inhuman); second, a lot of these stories seem to forget about including real-world minorities. Not a problem here as the rowankind aren’t a metaphor. Real slavery of African Americans still exists; the rowankind are slaves separately from that (and with little signs of a free-the-rowans movement). I think that works.
•Books that don’t click are frustrating. It’s frustrating because when a book has a lot going for it, I want to like it. And I want to figure out why I don’t. But I can’t quite pin down what left me so bored with Winterwood. Part of it, I think, is the dialogue: in addition to the exposition, it often feels stilted (I know David’s part-nonhuman but he still sounds way too old and rational when he talks). But beyond that? Just some x-factor — some writers are simply pitched at a frequency I don’t hear. Which is not necessarily Bedford’s fault, just a writer/author mismatch.