The Winter Riddle by Sam Hooker

9781732400702

“Will it bring an end to the world as we know it?” This is the most basic test to distinguish a good idea from a bad one.

Bad ideas have a way of wrecking solitude, and that’s all she wants. When the Winter Witch can’t get a moment’s peace in the North Pole, she’ll try anything: swearing at the top of her lungs to convince people to leave her alone, or casting a spell to become nearly invisible; or, if those don’t do the trick, she’ll forge an alliance with Santa (a retired warrior who’s anything but jolly) and save the world from a riddle devised by the daftest pair of libertines ever to have lived.

Hopefully, the swearing works. She knows some good swear words she’s been dying to try out.

Will the Vikings of Midgard take up arms against the rising darkness? Will the White Queen see through the treachery of an evil necromancer? Can reindeer be made to fly, and can everyone who isn’t the Winter Witch please stop meddling with dark forces beyond mortal comprehension for a bit?

Got a well thumbed-through copy of A Christmas Carol? Memorized your copy of Hogfather? Has it become The Lion, the Witch and the Worn Out? Well, good news, everyone! The Winter Riddle is a charming new festive fantasy that thoroughly deserves your attention. This is a tale with a bit of everything –  Vikings, Frost Giants, Santa, Insane Royalty,  Necromancy, Druids, and at the center of it all, a cranky witch who just want to be left alone.

Volgha is sister to the White Queen, but has been forced to renounce her claim to the throne to avoid having her head removed. The White Queen is silly, vain, and best friends with Loki of Norse fame, and together they delight in tormenting Volgha to the point of distraction. 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.

This goes about as well as you would expect.

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 put me in mind of a young Granny Weatherwax. It doesn’t hurt that Hooker has a great turn of phrase that is at times decidedly Pratchett-esque:

“So you mean to tell me,” Volgha growled, “that this man gave you an enormous crowd for a dozen evenings, a brawl that will be the talk of the town until spring, provided a boon to the economy, played himself nearly to death, and you have the gall to ask ‘who’s going to pay for his room?'” She hadn’t intended to turn on a glamour, but there are times when a witch’s magic just sort of seeps out unexpectedly, like farts in church.

It’s a much more lighthearted adventure than Hooker’s previous offering (Peril in the Old Country, a comedic dystopian fantasy), and yet it maintains the same darkly humorous tone. It is host to a group of well developed secondary characters, some enjoyable worldbuilding and a truly excellent familiar/foil for Volgha in the form of Redcrow, whose name just might be a little bit on the nose. 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.

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. I’ll be first in line!

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Bingo Squares 2018

  • Reviewed on r/Fantasy
  • Hopeful
  • Published 2018
  • Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
  • Features a God as a Character
  • Standalone

Cocktail

20181217_200955

The Winter Tipple

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