Winter Song, a sci fi novel by Colin Harvey
Karl Allman lives in a post human world. His body is augmented by nanophytes and he can interface with artificial intelligence. Its a galaxy where humans terraform other worlds to make new colonies and where there are factions and wars. Karl's ship is attacked and he crashes to the iceworld of Ishiemur, a failed terraformed planet, inhabited by Icelandic colonists. That Karl survives his spectacular landing is the first amazing thing, then that he survives his injuries is another.
Bera, a young girl, mourning the loss of her new born child, tends to Allman as he recovers. Living in a small community, her pregnancy, has drawn criticism and scorn from the other women in the settlement and her foster father, Ragnar. Icelandic traditions, culture and legends loom large in this colony and as it has been isolated for long in has devolved as well and technology is rudimentary. Scarcity of food and resources is a fact of life for the colonists. Most of the flora and fauna are toxic to humans and Allman is required to work off his debt, the food and care he received while recuperating. For some reason, Allman alternates between being rational and being another person, who the locals name Loki. He is either mad or a seer. It soon becomes apparent that Ragnar is not ever going to be happy with repayment and Allman has to make a choice to escape and send an SOS.
What follows is Allman and Bera's journey across this harsh world to find a way to send a signal. Ragnar will not relent and the chase is on.
Winter Song is a fairly fast and satisfying read. Allman's plight and Bera's drew me in and I found I was fascinated with the relationships Bera manages in her claustrophobic community. As the story unfolds, Bera comes to terms with rape and I think Colin handles the feminist themes here quite well and sensitively. There are things that Bera would like to do and cannot because she is female in a strongly patriarchal society. She is also an intelligent and sensitive character that hides a secret to keep the peace and in doing so injures herself. Winter Song is the story of how Bera finds herself and learns to love. In this sense, Allman is an agent for change. He crashes into the planet and into the lives of the Isheimuri people and that change expands like a snowball rolling down a hill. In some ways, Allman is too indestructible and that can lessen the impact of his suffering and need.
Not all the threads of the story are tied together by the end. Trolls are examined and analysed in a satisfying way, but the legendary shapeshifters disappear from the narrative. Ragmar undergoes a change after much carnage. Yet I think it is Bera that has been most affected.
The Icelandic setting added a layer of fantasy-like dressing, horses, sword fighting and legends and gods and the cultural layers also represent as authentic. I felt that Colin had done his research. The prose style was strong and didn't draw attention to itself and there was the occasional nice turn of phrase.
Thank you Colin.