Another week, another new series from one of my favorite new writers of the last decade. Last week it was Brian McClellan with In the Shadow of Lightning, this week it is Ed McDonald with Daughter of Redwinter. McDonald’s Raven’s Mark trilogy is one of my favorite fantasy series period. Sadly, Daughter of Redwinter doesn’t begin to live up to that series, although I don’t have much in the way of actual complaints.
Raine can see―and speak―to the dead, a gift that comes with a death sentence. All her life she has hidden, lied, and run to save her skin, and she’s made some spectacularly bad choices along the way.
But it is a rare act of kindness―rescuing an injured woman in the snow―that becomes the most dangerous decision Raine has ever made.
Because the woman is fleeing from Redwinter, the fortress-monastery of the Draoihn, warrior magicians who answer to no king, and who will stop at nothing to reclaim what she’s stolen. A battle, a betrayal, and a horrific revelation force Raine to enter the citadel and live among the Draoihn. She soon finds that her secret ability could be the key to saving an entire nation.
The Raven’s Mark trilogy was a breath of fresh air. Or fetid air, maybe, off the Misery. Ed McDonald was working in well-trodden sub-genres—epic fantasy, flintlock fantasy, grimdark—but he makes it all feel fresh and includes enormous depth and heart.
Daughter of Redwinter isn’t exactly stale, but it isn’t fresh either. The geopolitics of his secondary world should feel familiar—a clear Scottish analogue with politics dominated by clans is dominated by its wealthier, stronger neighbor to the south, a clear English analogue. The Draoihn and the magic they practice are fairly generic, to the extent they are explored. I do very much appreciate incorporating ghosts (I would love to see more ghosts in fantasy novels!), but it is an old trope.
Raine is the highlight of the book. I’m sure McDonald put a lot of work in here. Daughter of Redwinter is as much her personal story as it is a bigger story of larger forces coming into conflict. She is 17 and unsure of herself as she is thrust out into a larger world that is dangerous to anyone, yet alone a young woman. For readers who love this book, I suspect it will mostly be because they identify with and enjoy Raine’s character. I like her as a character, it just isn’t enough to get the book over the hump from good to great for me.
I did very much enjoy the way McDonald brings the conspiracy in and/or against Raine’s adopted clan to a resolution that is both unexpected and easily reconciled with the set up.
3.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Daughter of Redwinter from the publisher.