Sunday, April 4, 2010

steph swainston returns to her world of the immortal circle with above the snowline featuring jant shira

Steph Swainston is probably best-known for her series of fantasy novels about the Fourlands – The Year of Our War, No Present Like Time an The Modern World – where an immortal emperor surrounds himself with the best of the best talents and makes them immortal too. One of the central characters of these books is Jant Shira – the fastest man in the world, part of the immortal Circle and a mixed-blood. Jant is half Rhydanne – the elusive people of the mountains – and half Awian – the most population race who though they have wings, can't fly.
Swainston's latest book, Above the Snowline, follows Jant – immortal but still very cocksure – as he heads back to his birthplace, much to his disgust, in the company of a Rhydanne huntress who's complained to the emperor about Awian incursions into her mountains.
The Rhydanne life is a harsh one; they live above the snowline on mountains so high that there's hardly any air to breathe. Their bodies have adapted over the millennia; turning them into efficient hunting and fighting machines, making them immune to cold, super fast and amazingly hardy. The Awians, naturally, abhor them. Calling the Rhydanne primitive animals. It's obvious that someone needs to intervene in what could become a war.
Cue Jant – the youngest of the immortals he's only 75 years old, and he retains much of his humanity. Jant is a wastrel and a drunk, a womaniser and a bit of cheat. He's also pompous, arrogant and often rude. Still, he's immortal, rakishly handsome and can fly; which makes up for just about everything else.
When Shira Dellin, the Rhydanne huntress turns up in the emperor's city and demands he do something about the Awians, Jant is sent off to deal with the situation.
Along the way, he discovers that memories of his abusive childhood have coloured his actions and beliefs, making him deny much of his Rhydanne heritage. But being in the mountains again, sees Jant slowly realise that he is as much Rhydanne as he is Awian and without either, he'd be less than nothing.
There's a touch of romance in Jant's relationship with Dellin; but it is as much about letting things go, as it is about holding on.
Swainston's world is peopled by creatures who are only a little different from ourselves. It is easy to read the feelings and emotions of any person of mixed-blood in Jant, just as it is to see references to our dying, "primitive" cultures in the Rhydanne.
In fact Swainston has written a piece for Sci Fi Now magazine, called Once Were Hunters, about how she was brought up hunting, rebelled against it and then used the experience in writing Above the Snowline.
The writer's ability to make her characters real to her readers is what makes her books so popular. Swainston's story is familiar, yet different enough to keep us interested. Her descriptions, dialogue and plot are tight and the action keeps moving.
You don't have to have read any of Swainston's previous books – much of the background is given in Above the Snowline – and this one is more a prequel than a an addition to the previous books. Above the Snowline will merely whet your appetite for more stories of Jant, the emperor and his immortal Circle.

Above the Snowline by Steph Swainston is published by Gollancz and is available at good book stores and online.


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