WINTER SONG by COLIN HARVEY
EBook, 428 pages, Wizard’s Tower
Colin Harvey’s “Winter Song” marked his major-label debut after a long but fruitful period writing for small presses with novels like “Blind Faith”, “Lightning Days” and “The Silk Palace.” Never one to stick to his comfort zone, always happy to try something different, Harvey’s breakout novel merges SF with what is technically fantasy (in the same way that Anne McCaffrey’s PERN novels are fantasy, despite her insistence that they were SF). Certainly it kicks off as pure space adventure, as Karl Allman is forced to jettison from his exploding ship after it comes under attack.
Coming round on a mysterious icy world, Karl discovers that the ship, in its dying moments, has downloaded the sum total of its knowledge into his fragile human mind, and his brain is struggling to cope with the unexpected influx of data. He makes his way to a community struggling to survive as the climate changes around them, where he finds himself enslaved by elderly patriarch Ragnar. Escaping the community with Ragnar’s persecuted foster-daughter Bera, who carries her own demons, the two set off across the treacherous winter landscape in search of the mysterious Winter Song, a ship that crashed on the planet centuries ago, and that could be their salvation, or their doom.
The scenes in space that bookend the book are exciting, with tantalising hints of conflicts going on in the wider galaxy, and the portrait of the difficult life at the homestead are well-drawn and well researched, if occasionally brutal. Harvey spent time in Iceland researching this book, and a lot of thought has gone into the landscape, and how people are shaped by their landscapes even if they think they are the ones doing the shaping. It’s a convincing portrayal of a society losing its technology and reverting back to feudal ways, unglamourous and frequently violent.
The story dips a little as Karl and Bera set off on their journey to find the Winter Song, and the novel veers into “Monster of the Week” territory. Dragons – check. Flesh eating birds – check. Even trolls – though the trolls are not as they first appear and provide a pleasing twist. Thankfully the tentative relationship between Karl and Bera holds the reader’s interest, and once they discover the last resting place of the Winter Song the pace kicks up a gear again to a breathless, spectacular, loveably daft “Deep Impact” style finish.
There are deeper issues, tackling climate change and genocide, beneath the surface of what at first seems like little more than an SF romp. Winter Song is a book that bears more than one reading. This new edition, republished in e-format by Wizard’s Tower, contains a new forward by Colin’s friend Gareth L Powell, which is a fitting tribute to a writer whose potential was left frustratingly unfulfilled by his early death.
We all miss him.