Friday, December 12, 2014

Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis L. McKiernan

This 2002 paperback published by ROC was the first book I read by McKiernan. Afterward, I sought out various volumes of his famous Mithgar series and enjoyed them all. McKiernan admits to being influenced by J. R.R. Tolkien and certainly Lord of the Rings fans will take pleasure from any fantasy published by McKiernan. He is quite the storyteller, perhaps the last of the so-called Old School fantasists, but I believe that his stories are timeless. Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a perfect example of why I enjoy McKiernan’s books. It is a Fairy Tale in the traditional sense, re-imagining classical elements from folktales and forging something new. In the world of Faery there are lands that are always autumn, spring, summer and winter, separated by a strange wall of twilight. This tales begins once upon a winter’s night when Camille is betrothed to Prince Alain, who refuses to reveal to her his unmasked face. Alain’s secret involves a curse, a bear and a Troll; and as circumstances unfold Camille is devastated when she gazes upon his true features and thus loses everything. Thus begins Camille’s journey, fraught with peril, facing Trolls and Goblins; swept aboard a Dragonship, making friends and encountering enemies, Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a sprawling epic blending heroic fantasy with folktales into a rich tapestry of adventure. McKiernan sets each scene and offers up his characters as fully realized images that nearly jump off the page. The action is realistic. I mention this because while Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a “Fairy Tale” McKiernan doesn’t gloss over his scenes. There are some riveting, brutal circumstances that befall Camille, and McKiernan holds nothing back. A beautifully written book and a true “page turner,” I recommend Once Upon a Winter’s Night not only for lovers of heroic fantasy, but also for readers familiar with Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Other books in McKiernan’s "Once Upon a Time" series include Once Upon a Summer's Day, Once Upon a Spring Morn, Once Upon an Autumn Eve, and Once Upon a Dreadful Time.

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