In Midgard, the king is dead and a gathering is convened to choose the successor. Raef is forced to staunch his desire to discover new lands and must attend the gathering with his father, Lord of Vannheim. When murder disrupts the search for a new king, war breaks out and Raef burns with a new desire: a thirst for revenge.
The Blood-Tainted Winter is the first book in T.L. Greylock's The Song of the Ash Tree series
"You know as well as I the rumours of battle in the northern lands, of foul betrayal and cursed blood."
Greylock effortlessly portrays the gritty world of war in this sweeping Nordic fantasy. Against this backdrop, we follow Raef's struggle to forget youthful dreams of adventure and glory, and face a stark reality of grief, revenge, duty and power. Difficult lessons follow, and Raef has to make tough decisions about trust and loyalty—in short, he must grow up, and quickly.
"You cannot please all men, Raef."
"I do not wish to. But neither can I only please myself."
What I enjoyed most about this story was the way in which the mythology was such an integral part of the plot. The gods have a strong presence and their machinations are evident in a number of mysterious ways that unfold in a tantalising fashion. One concern of such a plot device is a potential lack of character agency, a result of determinism—like puppets on strings. Not so. These characters have the choice to stand up to the gods, or accept their will, and therefore do have an effect on the world. To be sure, the gods and half gods throw obstacles and advantages in the characters' path, and it makes for an intriguing story; one filled with mystery.
As the story goes on, and particularly in the second half, more mysteries and revelations unfold. There are twists and turns that will surprise and spellbind readers. From about the two-thirds mark, I was completely captivated by the story and the book became unputdownable. I also enjoyed the setting descriptions. Greylock's writing is superb, and she describes the places and events in such a vivid way that it was a pleasure to 'see' Midgard in my mind's eye.
"... the day grew dark and the sky filled with thrumming, writhing clouds that soon burst open, sending a fast and furious snowfall to the ground. Winds howled through the trees, blowing snow in all directions..."
I'd recommend The Blood-Tainted Winter to fans of Norse mythology and Vikings. I'd also recommend it to fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, as there are some story elements that are similar (in a highly enjoyable way) and such fans will appreciate them.