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Midwinter and The Office of Shadow by Matthew Sturges

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Midwinter by Matthew Sturges
Pyr, 2009, 320pp.
ISBN 978-1591027348

The Office of Shadow by Matthew Sturges
Pyr, 2010, 424pp.
ISBN 978-1616142025

It is winter in the land of Faerie. A former war hero sits in a prison distant from the capital, accused of a crime he didn’t commit. An envoy comes with orders from the queen herself, Regina Titania. She offers a chance to receive pardon and regain his freedom to fulfill a task only he and his hand-chosen companions can perform. The only problem — it’s a suicide mission.

Midwinter is the first novel from comic book creator Matthew Sturges. It chronicles the adventures of Mauritaine and his companions on their secret mission for the queen of the Seelie kingdom. He’s chosen an unlikely group of fellow prisoners, including the beautiful yet deadly Raive; Perrin Alt, Lord Silverdun, a noble also imprisoned unjustly; and the human Brian Satterly, apprehended in Faerie for trying to stop the changeling trade.

The group faces opposition from the citizens of the Seelie kingdom, who are hunting them as escaped prisoners, and from agents of the Unseelie kingdom, who want to prevent them from reaching the object of their quest or steal that object for their own queen, Mab. Also fighting them is Purane-Es, a man from Mauritaine’s past, who has his own reasons for wanting Mauritaine’s quest to fail.

And then there’s the black magician Hy Pezho, who has developed a devastating weapon that will completely change the balance of power between the Seelie and Unseelie kingdoms…

The Office of Shadow is the sequel to Midwinter, set about a year after the events in the first novel. It focuses on Silverdun, who is asked to lead a band of spies, the so-called “Office of Shadow,” in order to prevent all-out war between the Seelie and Unseelie kingdoms. He is asked to work with a beautiful sorceress with a power she can’t control and a soldier turned scholar who is researching the Unseelie kingdom’s new super-weapon.

The Shadows are given the authority to do whatever it takes to prevent the super-weapon from being used against the Seelie kingdom. If they’re not killed first by agents of the Unseelie kingdom or by Seelie lords who want to use the Shadows to advance their own agendas.

Matthew Sturges’s novels are an interesting re-imaging of the world of Faerie. This is realpolitik fantasy, a fantasy world with a realistic socio-economic foundation. Midwinter definitely has a gritty “Dirty Dozen” feel (or half-dozen in this case), and I thought more than a few time of Chris Roberson’s novel The Dragon’s Nine Sons. This should not be a surprise as both Roberson and Sturges were founding members of the writing collective Clockwork Storybook. As that sort of adventure, the novel succeeds very well.

The Office of Shadow is even better, and it is interesting to see Sturges’s growth as a writer from the first volume to the second. The characters are pulled into a worlds-spanning mystery, and we piece it together with the characters. Sturges uses telling “quotations” from literary works from within his fictional universe that provide glimpses at aspects of the mystery. And characters from Midwinter make important visits to the sequel.

Sturges has created a very rich re-interpretation of Faerie. There are very many ways he could go with the internal mythology of the story. The Office of Shadow I am sure will not be the last novel Sturges will set there. I look forward to many more.

(Reviewed by Donal Jacob Uitvlugt)

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