Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier

June 8, 2012 Reviews 4 ★★★★

Winter Be My Shield by Jo SpurrierWinter be my Shield (Children of the Black Sun #1) by Jo Spurrier
Published: 01 June 2012 by HarperVoyager
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Goodreads BooktopiaBookworld
4 Stars

Sierra has a despised and forbidden gift -- she raises power from the suffering of others. Enslaved by the King's Torturer, Sierra escapes, barely keeping ahead of Rasten, the man sent to hunt her down. Then she falls in with dangerous company: the fugitive Prince Cammarian and his crippled foster-brother, Isidro.

But Rasten is not the only enemy hunting them in the frozen north and as Sierra's new allies struggle to identify friend from foe, Rasten approaches her with a plan to kill the master they both abhor. Sierra is forced to decide what price she is willing to pay for her freedom and her life ...

I was expecting this novel to be great based on Tsana’s review, but I hadn’t anticipated exactly how much I would enjoy it. I had to read it over three days, and when faced with a few moments of spare time I found myself cracking the spine to read a few paragraphs. A vivid and engaging book, I have to give Jo Spurrier my respect for writing something I couldn’t get out of my head!

The strongest element of the book are the characters and their varied relationships with one another. The protagonist Sierra is treated horribly because of her powers, and the stubbornness of some characters in persisting with the belief that she is a demon, even after she saves their lives, astonished me. In fact, Sierra’s treatment at the hands of the other characters frequently had me seething, and at one point I had to stop reading because I was close to shouting. At a book. Any book that incites such a strong reaction is evidently well written!

The only character to accept Sierra without judgement is the crippled former warrior Isidro, but he has his own issues to deal with as those around him seem to confuse his broken limb with a broken mind. They treat him like a simpleton and refuse to let him do anything by himself, much to his frustration. However, each character is basically good inside, and this combined with their realistic motivations makes it difficult to outright dislike any of them. I found Rasten to be the most interesting character, despite his initial portrayal as pure evil. As a young man kidnapped by the Blood-Mage Kell and groomed through torture as an apprentice, Rasten has a conscience and genuinely seems concerned for Sierra’s well being, all the while admitting that if Kell ordered it, he would kill her. He is a complicated character whom the reader slowly warms to and I now find myself intrigued by him. I hope he features heavily in the sequels.

In my mind, the mark of truly skilful writing is when a reader does not have to refer to any maps or appendices throughout the story. I always study a map before beginning a book, but I found myself relying heavily on it for the first half of the novel. This slowed down my reading pace and took a little bit of enjoyment away from my experience. The second half of the novel was more engaging because of my familiarity with the world. As the story hurtled towards its conclusion I found myself wishing it wouldn’t end!

Winter be my Shield is a brilliant debut by an obviously talented writer and I look forward to reading the sequels. This is a book that will be enjoyed by connoisseurs of Fantasy but would also make a good starting point for those who are new to the genre. Definitely a book you don’t want to miss!

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley.
Read as part of the 2012 Australian Women Writer’s Reading Challenge

4 Responses to “Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier”

  1. Tien

    Saw this on the library’s catalogue yesterday (on-order) and thought it looks good but now I’ve really got to read it. Thanks for the review 😀

  2. mark

    I received a copy of this book in my “show bag” when I attended the Aurealis Awards recently. It’s been sitting off to the side on my to be read pile – thanks to your review it is now moved towards the top of that pile!

    I saw Jo Spurrier speak at the recent National SF Convention (Continuum 8) – she seemed like a very thoughtful author.

    Thanks for the review.


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