Winter Be My Shield – Jo Spurrier

Suzie Eisfelder

Last week I was slightly distracted and completely forgot to write anything. I pulled out a book from my stack today only to find it’s one I read many weeks ago during winter, when it was rather cold. Winter? Cold? How strange… I feel I should have read it in summer when the weather is sweltering.

I’m a firm believer in Australian authors. We have some seriously talented people in this country and I’m always anxious to find more. This book is no exception and I’m thrilled to note Spurrier has completed this series and started another.

I felt really cold while reading this book, not just because it’s winter here but also because it’s set in a very cold place. If you look at the front cover you’ll notice a female figure. She is dressed very warmly and is thigh deep in snow. The descriptions of the snow are very compelling, so much so that I struggled to stay warm. I really should have read this in summer .

Reading the descriptions of how these people survived in such cold weather gave me a much higher respect for those who live in such climates. The Inuit are a good example and I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurrier researched Inuit practices for this book. When we were in Toronto a few months ago we visited the Bata Shoe Museum and they have some shoes and clothing made by the Inuit. These shoes and clothing are absolutely gorgeous, they keep out the cold and are beautifully decorated.

This book details two very different types of people. One with good skills, enough to survive in the harsh climate of winter – the Ricalani. Some of them can read but it’s awkward as there are different people with different languages. They seem to have little technology and eschew the magic that appears to be inherent within them. Then you’ve got another set of people who have a higher level of technology but they also use their inherent magic – the Akharian Collegium. The technology they have seems to work well with the magic and also appears to work as if it is magic.

This reminds me of Clarke’s Third Law ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ This law has been attributed to Terry Pratchett, Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven. It is exactly what the invading culture looks like as their technology appears to run on magic. They have machines to help warm them in the cold and machines to help identify the amount of magic a person possesses.

What happens when these two cultures clash? In this book the people with the higher technology win. But I think that’s really irrelevant to one of the greatest things in this book. Everyone is looking for some books that have been hidden centuries ago by a magician called Vasant. They are very important books and hold the key to something. I’m not quite sure what at present, I suspect I need to read the next book.

And here be spoilers.

Vasant has digitised the books and enchanted them to display on the wall when an untrained Ricalani mage came along and broke the lock. Funnily enough the lock was broken when Isidro, a vaguely trained Ricalani mage, came along. But Isidro has been captured by the Akharian and is now a slave. He’s figured out how to display the books as he feels it’s the only option open to him. When he does so he realised that Vasant has made it impossible for the books to be stolen. I thought this was such a clever idea and just sat reading it again and again. It’s technology mixed with magic and therefore looks entirely like magic to people with little technology.

This book shows us a little about what it might be like to have been captured and to be made a slave. But we also get a little insight into how the ruling class might understand, or misunderstand, the people they have elevated from the lower classes. It shows there is a disconnect in the mind of someone who is otherwise compassionate but can’t see that it might be wrong to take a child from its birth parents. I can’t help wondering if Spurrier was thinking of the Stolen Generation here.

And in case you wish to buy any of Spurrier’s books here’s a link to them on Booktopia. No affiliate links for the moment.

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