Warning: This post may contain spoilers for Will Wight’s Wintersteel, as well as other books in his Cradle series
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I try very hard to read broadly. For the most part, I enjoy the books that I read, even the ones that are outside what I’ll call my core genres. This especially true of much of the nonfiction and biographic texts that I consume, all of which come with the added benefit of improving my knowledge just a little bit more. Then there are the times that I return to the core fantasy genre, and I remember why fantasy and science fiction are my true favorite genres. Wintersteel was just the kind of reminder for which I was looking.
We reviewed the previous seven books in the Cradle series near the beginning of this year (I’ll link to those reviews at the bottom of the post), which brought me up to date on the series. This was the newly released eighth book, which came out at the beginning of October (and I actually read it close to when it came out, for once, although I have a bit of a backlog of reviews, which is why you’re not reading about it until now). Like the other Cradle books, this was a very quick read, despite being longer than any of the other Cradle books (you can read what the author has to say about that by going to WillWight.com); I finished it in just two days.
That is was longer was a good thing. One of my largest critiques about the previous Cradle books is that they are too fast, covering too much without going into enough detail. However, that is somewhat because I read these and see them as being epic fantasy, while Wight bills them as being something called martial arts fantasy. Perhaps Wintersteel struck a better balance between the breakneck pace of the earlier books, and what I want them to be in my head.
While the other books have a somewhat formulaic feel, since each one typically would have a major battle at the end in which Lindon manages to advance to the next level in the magic system, this one broke the mold, helped by the amount of extra world-building, exposition, and development that Wight included. There were parts that were predictable, in part because I’ve gotten to a point where I can understand how authors think about storytelling and can see how a story will unfold from that perspective, as well as the perspective of the reader, but overall there were a lot more twists and turns than in the previous volumes (why are some series installments called volumes, as opposed to books? Perhaps it would be worth writing a blog post on that), which made the book much stronger.
However, there were a few places where I felt this book stumbled. Nothing major, and nothing that really detracted from my enjoyment of them, or my eagerness to read the next book when it comes out, but they are worth noting, from a writing perspective. First, despite being longer, this book still felt rushed in places. Because the viewpoint characters have been split up for most of the book, we jump from one to the other, and don’t spend a great deal of time with any of them doing any one thing. Second, I think the character development in this one was a little weaker than the past books. There was a sense of inevitability about their advancements both magically and personally, and some things clicked into place that I think needed more help before coming together. Again, this is in part because I see these as being epic fantasy, as opposed to martial arts fantasy. Third, this book did not contain any of the cut scenes that the other books had, which made it feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the series. Fourth and finally, there were a few moments where Wintersteel flirted with breaking the so-called fourth wall. It mostly worked because of who the character was, but it was still a little disconcerting and slightly out of place in the book.
All of those critiques are fairly minor, however, and as I said, this is still one of the better books that I’ve read in awhile. Going through the whole series (and also comparing it to Wight’s Traveler’s Gate series), it is clear that Wight is making huge leaps in his ability as an author from book to book. He might be my favorite up-and-coming fantasy author, and I very much look forward to seeing what he does with the ninth Cradle book, and whatever other novels he decided to write. I highly encourage you to go read these.
As promised, here are the links to our other Cradle reviews: