This is the book Steph Swainston's fans have been waiting for. A prequel to the Castle novels.
This is Jant Shira's life before the drugs took over, as a hunter in the mountains. Awian exiles are building a stronghold in the Darkling mountains, where the Rhydanne hunt. Their clash of interests soon leads to bloodshed and Shira Dellin, a Rhydanne huntress, appeals to the immortal Circle for justice. The Emperor sends Jant, half-Rhydanne, half-Awian, and all-confidence, to mediate.
As Jant is drawn into the spiralling violence he is shaken into coming to terms with his own heritage and his feelings for the alien, intoxicating Dellin.
ABOVE THE SNOWLINE tells the story of Jant's early years in the Circle and shows the Fourlands as you've never seen them before.
|Publisher:||Orion Publishing Group, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||4.40(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Steph Swainston is a qualified archaeologist with a degree from Cambridge and a research degree. She worked as archaeologist for six years, working on the dig that researched the oldest recorded burial site in the UK, before working as an information scientist. She lives in Wokingham.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a prequel to the Fourlands trilogy I read last year and features Jant's early life as one of the immortal Eszai. Raven Rachiswater, brother to the king of the Awians, has been exiled to the Darkling mountains but his new manor house is purported to be in contravention to the edicts of the Emperor and has also encroached onto the hunting grounds of the Rhydanne and Shira Dellin has appealed to the Emperor for help. He sends Jant back with Dellin in order to mediate a truce and find out what is really going on in Darkling.The story is told from the point of view of whoever is the main focus for the current chapter so the reader gets to see the motivations of each of the main players throughout and each has their own distinctive voice. The world is beautifully portrayed and imagined and nothing really feels out of place, even when our own modern day accoutrements invade what seems to be a fairly standard fantasy setting. The different facets of the plot are interwoven nicely as the story builds to the climactic ending. There are some quite grisly scenes portrayed in this book and details of animal butchery is probably not the worst of it but if you can handle that kind of detail then this and the aforementioned trilogy are definitely worth a visit.
I have a soft spot for Steph Swainston. Back when Miéville¿s Perdido Street Station sparked my interest in the New Weird, Swainston¿s first book about the Fourlands was the second example I stumbled over. So between them, Miéville and Swainston very much defined the genre for me.The Fourlands are involved in an endless war with mindless insects, constantly threatening to destroy civilization. To lead the war, the demi-godlike Emperor San has selected a Circle of fifty men and women, who are the best in their respective field (Archery, Ballistics, Sailing, Swordsmanship, Healing and so on) and granted them immortality. Unfortunately for the Circle, the Messenger is Jant, the fastest man alive, the only human who could ever fly, but also a street-wise, egocentric junky. Jant is the main character of the Fourland books.Swainston is in a way much more close to ¿regular¿ epic fantasy than many other of the New Weird writers I like, and this has been gradually becoming more true as the series progresses. In the first books, Jants drug use let him cross the borders into other worlds, including the grotesque and very weird transit station Shift, a kind of Burroughsian Interzone with women made of bundles of worms and road signs made from living intestines. Those strongly flavoured detours are becoming less and less frequent, and in this her latest book, they aren¿t there at all. Which is a bit of a shame.What is becoming more and more interesting about Swainston, though, is that she (much like Miéville) is using fantasy as political literature. Imperialism and cultural imperialism are becoming strong themes in a very interesting way. Above the snowline is a prequel to the previous three books. In the Darkling mountains, Awain expansion is causing the hunting grounds of the native Rhydanne to grow thin, and raids on tame livestock is the result. Now the area is on the brink of guerilla war, the Rhydanne woman Dellin is appealing to the Emperor for help, and Jant is sent to practice diplomacy. Himself being half Rhydanne, half Awain (which is the key to his flying ability), Jant is at the same time faced with his own complicated cultural heritage and loyalty. What follows is a complex ride, told in first person by many voices in a way that really shows the position of all sides. There are no easy answers here, and no real heroes or villains. For a long time, Swainston seems to be very close to falling into a ¿noble savage¿ cliché, but then she tilts the perspective with a truly horrific turn of events. The feral Rhydanne aren¿t all that easy to like, either. Very clever.It isn¿t all good. There are things in here that feels worn and re-heated too many times. And how Jant becomes a complete idiot by falling in love is just silly. But all in all, this is exciting and well-told fantasy with a fresh perspective for anyone who is tired of magical swords.
For anyone who¿s familiar with the Fourlands series, Above the Snowline takes place before the previous three books, relating the story of Jant coming to terms with his Rhydanne heritage as he tries to mediate between Awians and Rhydanne over the construction of a new manor in Darkling. Rather than simply tell the story from Jant¿s perspective, we also get chapters from other participants in the book¿s events, including Lightning and Raven, governor of Carniss. At first, I¿ll admit I found this a bit off-putting ¿ it takes a while to get to Jant¿s chapters, when I¿d wanted to hear from him straight away. However, splitting the POVs this way gives the book a number of different voices and tones, which made it more interesting without overly complicating the plot.In terms of plot, I won¿t attempt to summarise any more than I have above. Above the Snowline feels deceptively simple when you¿re reading it, but there¿s a lot going on: dealings with the Rhydanne, Awian politics, frontier living and Jant¿s relationship with Dellin. No single plotline dominates the others and instead all entwine tightly together, moving the story along quickly to a satisfying end.My one main concern with Above the Snowline was the description of setting which, whilst evocative, sometimes runs on longer than I would have liked. Still, Swainston¿s writing is strong enough to make descriptions of forests and glaciers and mountains compelling, lending a real sense of place to the novel ¿ and it¿s refreshing to come across a setting in a fantasy that isn¿t yet another faux-Medieval civilisation. In fact, from the Rhydanne I got more of a sense of an European prehistoric people. In the descriptions of their lifestyle, including things like meat butchery and flint knapping, I was immediately reminded of my archaeology degree. Swainston¿s biography says she¿s worked as an archaeologist and it shows in the Rhydanne. (Incidentally, the particular scene involving flint knapping vividly recalled archaeological evidence from a particular Neanderthal cave site, but I won¿t say more than that or it¿ll spoil the story!) However, don¿t let me give you the impression that the Rhydanne¿s lifestyle is described in a dry, scholarly manner, as it¿s actually vivid and beautifully realised, with the archaeology visible only if you know what you¿re looking for.I¿ll admit, finally, that Above the Snowline wasn¿t my favourite of Swainston¿s books, simply because I never really grew to like the Rhydanne ¿ but I¿m not sure the reader is supposed to. They remain fascinating but ultimately as bizarre to modern thinking as our ancient ancestors would likely seem, were we to meet them today. Still, Above the Snowline is beautifully written, tightly plotted and compelling, without a single extraneous scene. Like the rest of the novels in this loose series, it stands well above most current fantasy and has already got me impatient for the next installment.