Series: Darwath #4
Publisher: Del Rey (July 28, 1998)
Author Information: Website
Length: 323 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Comfortable. Like the feel of a cozy chair, or a sip of favorite coffee, or watching a movie you’ve seen a dozen times. That is what Darwath stories by Barbara Hambly are to me. Certainly, they are also exciting, suspenseful, and thought-provoking in equal measure, but sitting down with Ingold and Gil, Rudy and Minalde, Tir and the Icefalcon is a comfortable return to a fondly remembered place, surrounded by people I love. So please understand that as you read my review of Mother of Winter, Book 4 of the series.
Five years have passed since the Dark (aided by a certain wizard) crossed the inter-dimensional gulf between worlds, leaving Darwath for a warmer place not about to enter a new ice age. The Dare Keep survivors have moved on as best they could, putting their past lives behind them, and learning to survive in a frigid climate where their lands are being overrun by a strange, never-before-seen plant life. This “slunch” spreading slowly but surely across the land, destroying all foliage it touches including the little remaining farm land, as well as having the added side effect of turning any animal which partake of it into strange, deformed monstrosities straight out of nightmares. No normal or magical method able to stop its relentless destruction.
Faced with the growing specter of starvation, Minalde’s regency for her son Tir faces growing conflict. Both lords and important citizens of the Keep raging against her reliance (and relationships) with Ingold, Rudy, and the other wizards. Wizards who eat rations but are useless against the ice storms outside, the spread of the slunch, or the lack of production by the Keep’s hydroponic tanks. Some even going so far as to blame the the wizards for all their problems. This rising unrest sure to lead to open conflict and the destruction of the small group of survivors in Dare’s Keep unless someone does something.
Like always, Ingold Inglorion, greatest wizard of the West, is the one everyone turns to. His steady presence, immense power, and faithful heart making him as close to a savior as the Keep will ever have — though many might label him a devil instead. But our resident wizard is torn as to what to do. His instincts tell him the origins of the slunch and the only means to combat it are in the southern lands of Alketh, but how can he sneak away from the Keep with an erratic, potentially dangerous Gil, leaving Rudy behind as Minalde’s main magical protection? And even if he does destroy the slunch, would it mean sacrificing the Keep survivors he has fought so long and hard to save?
My initial response to this book was a very favorable one. It started out strong, reintroducing the world of Darwath and spent the right amount of time with old familiar characters as well as new ones. The growth of each of these old favorites, the evolution of life at Dare’s Keep, and the struggles the group as a whole now deal with well structured and internally consistent. The “world destroying” problem of the slunch, which quickly faced the Keep, presented in a very realistic way. The effect of all this that the story organically grew from where the author left things decades ago at the close of The Armies of Daylight; Barbara Hambly not making the mistake of trying to retell the same old story but actually letting her longtime readers know what happened to Darwath since they were last there.
Around the two-third mark though, minor issues began cropping up which almost derailed this book for me. New characters were never fleshed out. Intriguing side plots were introduced then abandoned for no reason. The pacing became very rushed. The ending a surprise but not very satisfy. All of these things leaving me with a feeling that the author needed another book or two to truly tell the story she set out to write. So while I still enjoyed Mother of Winter, these problems definitely harmed my overall enjoyment with it.
Anytime I have an opportunity to return to Darwath I never pass it up. These characters, this world and its struggles to dear for me not to jump at the chance to enjoy any tale Barbara Hambly chronicles. I have to admit though that Mother of Winter was missing some secret ingredient to transform it from a solid, enjoyable adventure tale into one for the ages, and so while I’m glad I read it, I did subtract half a star from my rating, lowering it to only 3.5 stars.