The Winter Riddle – Sam Hooker

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The Winter Riddle  (pub. Black Spot Books, 1st Nov. 2018) is a satiro-mythical morality tale whose author clearly demonstrates his membership in that emerging generic brotherhood which, much as the successors of playwright Ben Jonson gained the epithet “The Tribe of Ben”, could well be referred to as “The Tribe of Terry.”

Yes, this story definitely has Terry Pratchett as its godfather, with Tom Holt standing in the wings in case someone drops the baby.

The characters include witches who demand respect, barmy rulers, elves and goblins, Gods and barbarian warriors, and Santa himself (though not in hoggish guise here). Remind you of somewhere flat and full of magic?

But this story is set on our Earth – albeit around a mythical version of the North Pole – and, while there are the kind of moral disquisitions we’re accustomed to see in the works of the tribal leader, the principal problem is a very modern one: global warming.

But who is responsible? Is it some kind of plot by the Frost Giants to thaw their way out of Niflheim? Is it a rebellion by the land itself against the crazed rule of Queen Alexia? Or is it a deadly side-effect of a bet mischievous Loki has made against himself?

Volgha, the Winter Witch and sister to the Queen, is facing all sorts of pressure: Alexia wants her to serve at court, the spirit of her old master Osgrey is nagging her to take on the job of Warden to the Land, Ghasterly the Castle Necromancer keeps trouncing her at magic, and Santa’s rickety prototype flying machine has dropped a wing right on her herb garden.

In addition she has a duty of care towards a rather elegant snow lion called Sigmund and an ambitious Red Raven who is addicted to anchovies. Volgha, meanwhile, in Garboesque fashion, just “wants to be alone!”

As you can no doubt infer from all of the above, there is a healthy streak of humour running through this tale, and, as with Pratchett’s oeuvre, it’s not entirely facetious.  The moral dilemmas of “Who should rule?” and “How should one treat ‘the other’?” are neatly tied in with an entertaining plot and characterisation.

Plus, we get a peek at the early career of that famed warrior, Santa. What more could you ask?

My only reservation is that the introduction of a fairly large cast of characters slowed the plot a little at the start, but, once the protagonists were firmly bedded into the story, I just sat back and enjoyed the (sleigh) ride!

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