I've gotten pretty jaded with fantasy novels over the years. There are tropes and plot devices and character types that have been used over and over. It's hard to find a new one that keeps my interest.
This one worked. Even though the main character is a thief (how many times have we seen that in fantasy before?), the opening segment caught my interest. We first see Jeniche in a prison dungeon as it starts to collapse around her, the result of an invading army shelling the city. Between dodging falling stonework and having to fight another, psychopathic, prisoner in her effort to fully escape, the segment is breakneck, non-stop action, very well done. It hooked me in.
Subsequent chapters begin to fill out the world Jeniche lives in. It's an old world, largely fallen to pre-industrial levels. (There are exceptions, like the dirigibles that show up late in the story.) Ancient ruins, worn and eroded, are common, and one section takes place in a long-abandoned city now buried beneath desert sands. This story may actually take place in a far-future, fallen Earth; there's a passing mention of huge windowless buildings that makes anyone who approaches too closely sicken and die. (Nuclear power plants?)
What I liked about Talboys writing is that he doesn't explain everything. The city of Makamba, where the story begins, is built up slowly in the reader's mind. We learn some of Jeniche's backstory, and that of the other characters, but not all of it, and it's not delivered in a lump, but slowly, a bit at a time. The buried city, and the world's deep past, remain largely a mystery.
One thing that some readers might find disconcerting is that there are time breaks between chapters. Stuff happens during those time breaks, and it's revealed by subsequent dialogue and interactions between Jeniche and the group of monks and nuns she finds herself aiding in an epic journey across the world, pursued by elements of the same army that invaded Makamba.
I didn't mind that technique. It made me pay closer attention to what was said, and how the characters acted towards each other. If Talboys made me work a little to keep track of what was going on, and to figure out some of the backstory and history, I enjoyed the effort, and I'm hoping to see further volumes of Jeniche's story, and to learn more about her history and the forgotten history of the world she lives in.
(And it turns out, as I double-check info before posting this, that the second book, Exile & Pilgrim, is available for the Amazon Kindle. There's also a hardcopy version, available from Amazon.uk.)
Stealing Into Winter, Graeme K. Talboys, 240 pages, Roundfire Books, 2012.