My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow, excellent read! I would never have guessed this was a first novel (or, first part/novella of a first novel), or an indies title--the writing is so polished, the historical details and attitudes of the characters/setting so smoothly integrated and believable, and the competency of the pacing/plotting, dialogue, and so on. Plus the story is just so gripping and original--totally unlike anything I've read recently but so well-conceived! (for lack of a better way to put it)
The story, which has some elements of mystery to it, starts off with an old man named Isaac reflecting on death (the recent death of his beloved wife and his own imminent one) in a sunny cottage somewhere in medieval Spain. We soon infer that he and his (surprisingly cool, gutsy) wife have had a very eventful life, one which somehow involves a period of time travel/time looping and a monumental endeavor to stop a plague brought on by some kind of semi-supernatural being (a mysterious and charismatic Moor, though perhaps one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).
However, beneath the paranormal adventure story is the even more extraordinary thing--a very richly woven and moving story of human connections/relationships, especially between lovers, but also arch-enemies, greedy interlopers, shaky allies, the Church and government and politics and people. It's really hard to describe this story as it feels so unlike your typical scifi/fantasy novel despite presenting such interesting speculative fiction and striking, interesting characters.
But despite how different/unusual The Winter is, it's so utterly easy to slip into this fascinating story with its extremely strong storytelling. The characters are fascinating, relatable, mysterious, and funny all at once. The writing and sensibility sometimes feel like literary fiction, but the novel is driven by such a strong, intriguing plot and populated by such likable characters, that you feel like you got your money's worth intellectually while still just utterly enjoying/relishing the read like you would with commercial fiction. I just can't recommend this novella enough and am DYING for the next part!
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