Traitor of Redwinter is the latest book from fantasy author Ed McDonald. It is the second of The Redwinter Chronicles, and like the first novel in the series Daughter of Redwinter, it is an epic fantasy blended with magical mystery. The Redwinter Chronicles are my first experience with McDonald’s writing. Still, readers may also know him from his completed The Raven’s Mark trilogy, which I have purchased based on how much I loved The Daughter of Redwinter and The Traitor of Redwinter. Like many things in life, there is a particular type of book I can almost guarantee I will enjoy – epic fantasy, some magic, some political manoeuvring, some dubious morals, and the odd battle. Not only does McDonald’s Traitor of Redwinter have all of these things, he has done them very well. If I was not reading this book, I was thinking about it, and I was so sad to finish it because I was not ready to let go. McDonald has firmly ensconced himself in my auto-buy list because of these two books, a place he shares with the likes of Mark Lawerence, Robin Hobb, and Joe Abercrombie. If those writing maestros are also your reading cup of tea, I would expect you to enjoy Ed McDonald’s writing immensely.
The Daughter of Redwinter is essential pre-reading before starting Traitor of Redwinter. Still, you do not have to have done this very recently, as McDonald provides a handy synopsis before the novel proper. There are also a Dramatis Personae and notes on the Mystical World at the rear of the book to help you keep the different Lacs and their clans in check. Traitor of Redwinter continues to follow Raine and her time navigating the world around her. Not just her struggles with controlling her necromancy (and the risks that this poses), but the politics of Redwinter and the wider world, socially dealing with the traumas from the first novel and trying to find a firm footing in the LacNaithe household as an Apprentice Draohin. The Raine in Traitor of Redwinter is quite different (because of the removal of the magical ‘block’ placed on her in the first novel), and I feel like this vulnerability which made her a lot more human. In Daughter of Redwinter, the lack of emotions made her more challenging to relate to, whereas in Traitor I cared for her as a character rather than just the fate of the world she was in. I think some readers might not like the emotional shift in Raine, especially her dealing with romantic attachments, as this did not feature very highly in the first novel. Still, I found it to be an essential part of her characterisation and written with great care by McDonald. Raine never feels like a caricature or a diversity check box, she is just Raine.
I liked almost everything about Traitor of Redwinter. I found it to be well-paced and very engaging. It is a character-driven novel, and I reacted to all the key characters. Most I like, even the slightly sketchier ones, and some I loathe. But to have these reactions shows just how good McDonald’s writing is. In this novel, we learn so much more, without ever being bogged down by world-building, and discover the pasts of some of the more enigmatic characters. The manoeuvring of the politics in and out of Redwinter is done masterfully. I was, at times, literally open-mouthed and had to go back and re-read parts to make sure what I was reading was actually happening. There is a darkness to this series, which will appeal to grimdark fans, but it is not overpowering or unrelenting. Even on the brink of war, there is laughter and lighter moments. Traitor of Redwinter moves on the wider plots of The Chronicles and is a good read in its own right. The stage is set perfectly for what I expect to be a fantastic conclusion.
I want to pass on a huge thank you to Ed McDonald and the team at Gollancz for sending me both The Daughter of Redwinter and The Traitor of Redwinter so that I could provide this review. However, having read these two almost back to back, the wait for the next book will be tough!