Updated: Jan 20
Tim Leach has a flair for storytelling, possibly quite unlike any other author I’ve read. I devoured Smile of the Wolf a couple of years ago, thought it to be one of the most unique books I’d ever read. And now I’ve finished A Winter War, I can confirm it is not in fact unique, just the standard Tim sets for each of his novels.
The prose is beautiful, it flows like a winter river, each sentence well structured, not a word out of place. This is a story to be told around a camp fire, the stars shining down from a purple sky as a warrior regales his children with the story of Kai and his warriors.
Kai’s story is one of courage, and his lack of it. A kind hearted man raised amongst a people who appraise each other on their prowess in battle above all else. A people that expects their children to kill their father’s when they are too old to ride, a people that expect all their children to grow to be warriors, to master the sword and the spear, to worship their weapons and mounts above all else.
For the Sarmatians live for war, for the thunder of the charge, the clash of spears and the thrill of victory. They have no time for weakness, no use for coin, no time for losers. A people of their time, forged on the plains of the eastern steppe.
But the Sarmatians have run out of land, their migration bringing them to Rome’s borders, and Rome shows no mercy when their lands are threatened. Emperor Marcus Aurelius orders the Sarmatians destroyed, and his red cloaked legions will see it done, or die trying.
The book opens with a battle on the frozen river Danube, the Sarmatians charging onto the ice, the legionaries standing on their shields for purchase as they fend off the riders with spear and sword. It gives us a great opening, and sets the scene for what is to come.
Tim introduces us quickly to Kai and his brother warriors, his estranged sister who refuses to end their feud. This is a book about people, about relationships, love and conflicting emotions. I was moved by the relationship between Kai and Arite, I felt their conflict, their reluctance to give in to what they felt. Lucius, the Roman slave, captured in battle, brings another set of eyes to the two as they struggle to master their desire, and their joint loyalty to Bahadur.
Kai himself is a well-rounded lead POV. He is flawed, in the eyes of his people at least, but in his heart is a desire to do what he feels is right for his people, for his daughter and her future, and for the woman he loves.
Tim paints the ancient world in grey scale, the harshness of the steppe, the bite of the winter wind, he breathes life into the world, giving you a picture of what it would have been like to try and survive in that time.
And he does it phenomenally well, giving us a beautifully told story about believable characters, set against the dramatic backdrop of the harsh life of a nomadic people. Can’t wait for the next one!