Book review · Bookish talk

The Winter Riddle by Sam Hooker | Book Review

PUBLISHING DATE: 1st November 2018
PUBLISHER: Black Spot Books
ISBN: 9781732400702

This was definitely a pleasantly unusual read, combining Vikings, Santa, magic, necromancy, Loki, Norse gods, insane royalty, Frost Giants and caught between them, a reluctant witch who just wants to be left alone.

Volgha, the Winter Witch has never had anything in common with her crazy family which have ruled over the North Pole kingdom of Aurora since quite possibly forever. No one really knows how long the family has been ruling. Volgha only wanted to be left alone and be able to peacefully practice her witchery, away from her extravagantly crazy sister, the Queen and her best friend, the Norse god Loki. A simple enough request,right? Apparently not. However, her younger sister took over the kingdom, her mentor is now a tree and Santa is the worst neighbor ever. Enter the wacky fantasy world of Winter Riddle. This is the story of how Volgha gets caught up in one of her sister’s and Loki’s pranks that might lead to a violent war.

Loki decides that he’s looking for a challenge, and that challenge is to set the greatest riddle ever devised, to stump the greatest trickster who ever lived: himself. In order to do this, he’ll need Volgha to cast a spell to split his mind in two, allowing one Loki to set the riddle, and then to release the other to solve it.

You can very well imagine how well this went.

Add to the mix, Volgha’s neighbour, an ex warrior named Santa Klaus, who is nothing like the jolly fat man we all know (evident from the fact that he is holding a hammer on the cover). When her world is threatened by Ragnarok, the Winter Witch will ally with Santa, and the result can only be both epic and hilarious. Can the North Pole be saved?

It’s an endearing story that had me laughing out loud a lot. While Volgha is an irritable protagonist, her snarky humor and sarcasm combined with a deep sense of justice makes her relatable and very real.   There were many surprises and the way that the author was able to keep the pacing just right really helps everything flow naturally. There is a darker element to the novel that I loved along with humor in between it all. This novel toes the line of fantasy and reality quite seamlessly. Without giving away too much I thought the exchange between the Frost Giants, Santa, Volgha and the Vikings at the start of the battle was a brilliant take on things.

The world and characters in this book were so well brought to life and had amazing personalities. This is not an epic adventure, it’s an epic mess that a couple of barely sane characters are trying to hold together. All the different story aspects blend together well and there’s also some surprisingly sincere character development that was quite touching, in particular Santa’s world-weary outlook and Volgha’s solution to bring some joy and meaning into his life.

Apparently this is a reworked version of the author’s previously self-published first novel, and I think it shows a little bit. The pacing and plotting weren’t as even and tight, but still this is a great book with many Pratchett-esque elements.

While I very much appreciate the standalone nature of this story, it would certainly bring me some Christmas cheer if I were to hear that Hooker intended to write more about this world and its inhabitants.

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* I want to thank NetGalley, the publishers and of course, the author for the eARC of this wonderful, humorous and absurd yuletide fantasy.

 

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