Winter Song by Colin Harvey is the third book I've read from small press Angry Robot. As I've thoroughly enjoyed all of them and have paid for none of them (they've all been freebies from conferences or joining the British Fantasy Society), I'm feeling a bit uneasy. I think I might have to make a point of buying some more books from them.
Karl Allman's spaceship is attacked and he bails out, landing on a barely habitable planet. Centuries ago, humans spread out from Earth. In some cases, people were genetically altered to be able to cope with conditions on planets not habitable by ordinary humans. In other cases, planets were terraformed. Since then, the factions have split and humanity is at war with itself. Allman's ship gets caught in the crossfire and the planet he lands on is one where terraforming was started but not properly finished.
He is found by a community of people who colonised this ice planet so they could live a traditional Icelandic life. In this community, there is a girl named Bera, grieving her dead baby, who is scorned and rejected by the rest of the community because she won't name the father of the baby. She nurses Allman back to health at which point, the head of the community, Ragnar, demands that he work to pay off his debt. He learns that the world is basically poisonous to humans, the terraforming is reversing, and there are other creatures, trolls, that might be sentient.
Allman learns from Bera that the remains of the original colonists' ship, the Winter Song, lie somewhere far to the south. Ragnar won't let him leave so he has to escape and Bera comes with him. They journey across the ice, followed by Ragnar, and along the way, Allman learns that Bera was raped. They also encounter a troll and discover that the trolls are modified humans that settled the planet before it was terraformed.
I loved this. The story is complex and deals with a number of themes, which are handled so well that it is never overwhelming. Harvey writes POVs from both Allman and Bera and conveys the miscommunication in their relationship brilliantly and with sensitivity. This is an example of really good science fiction. It's a human story that's prime focus is the characters, set in a hard sci-fi world that highlights some serious social themes. The resolution of the story is excellent; it's downbeat but perfect for the story and emotionally satisfying.
And there are sort of Vikings. Is it just me? Am I just picking books that take inspiration from Norse mythology and the Vikings? Or there a Viking theme in publishing right now?
Anyway, this was really good. I recommend it.