Recent Reading: Mapping Winter by Marta Randall

You all recall that I mentioned Mapping Winter recently, because it is a new version of an old book, Marta Randall’s Sword of Winter. As I said, I really liked the earlier version and have read it quite a few times, so I was definitely interested in the new version.

Well, Mapping Winter is an excellent story. What has stayed the same: Most of the plot, but not the ending. What has changed, besides the ending and the names of the most important characters? Well, first, there’s a lot more depth to both the protagonist and the world.

Lyeth was a fine protagonist. But Kieve, though similar, is better. She is more complicated and deeper, more conflicted in various important ways. Her deep longing to see new places has been added in this version – part of the brand-new emphasis on exploring and mapping. Her relationship with her guildmaster is a lot more complicated as a result. In fact, most of her relationships are more complex. Plus the new ending grows out of that aspect of her character.

The world in Sword of Winter was perfectly fine, but the world has deepened in the new version of the story. The local political situation is fraught in both books, but the broader world in Mapping Winter is more important. Clearly that is going to increase in later books in the series.

How about that new ending?

Well . . . I sort of like it. The new ending arises naturally out of the new story. It’s not as pat or as convenient as the original ending. Some aspects of the new ending offend my sense of justice. Plus a character I like gets killed, which always makes me unhappy. Still, the nastiest villain meets his just end, so it could be worse. Given the new ending, the set-up for the next book seems clear. It’s possible the local political situation will be altered again by later events. Or that whole part of the story, central in this book, may fade in importance. That’s not nearly as clear.

Mapping Winter also offers lyrical prose and great description. I’m not sure whether the writing was this beautiful in the earlier version because I didn’t get Sword of Winter off the shelf to compare, but if the thirty-six-year gap between the two versions has made a difference, it’s a good one. Either way, the writing in Mapping Winter is just beautiful.

The alpine valley ended as sharply as though sheared away, leaving in its place a chasm falling in shattered steps into blackness before the land leaped up again in the distance, and up further to the head of a massive peak to the northwest. Flat sunlight struck the shoulders of the peak, flaring from snow and ice fields; it seemed in that moment that another world had opened before her, one so new that the colors had not yet been added.

And again, a single sentence that struck me as particularly beautiful:

Someone sat in a barracks window, playing a flute. Its crisp music decorated the chill air.

Its crisp music decorated the chill air. I wish I’d written that sentence.

So, then, should you buy this new book?

Yes, you absolutely should. If you loved Sword of Winter, you’ll probably love Mapping Winter. If you never read the earlier book, you’ll probably love Mapping Winter, especially if you like secondary-world fantasy with a heavy emphasis on politics. I will add, if you like my novels, you’re almost certain to like this one.

When Marta Randall brings out the next one in this series, I’ll be right there for it.

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