Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss - 3 out of 5.
555 pages (in my edition anyway) is to many for this story & it's only book one of a trilogy. That is my main problem with this book. The pages go by & not a great deal happens, a shame really because it's pretty well written & in the most part quite entertaining. There is some great intrigue in here, but it can get lost amongst all the waffle. It's just all too slow.
The first 125 pages are really just a prelude in the form of an (almost) self contained novella. Although it's referred back to on occasion, it's not really integral to the main story. The bulk of the tale happens several generations after this prolonged introduction. Most of the action takes place in the Humanoid (Medieval-ish) settlement of Embruddock, a little safe haven from their enemy, the bearlike Phagors, against whom they are constantly fighting. Within this basic set up we have classic struggling to survive fair, both against the other races of Helliconia & the very elements themselves.
The style of writing drifts into the Biblical at times & can fell rather like a “& that's how sow & sow came about”. I would place this about 80% into the Fantasy section of a decent book shop, though there are certainly some SF elements in there too. Primarily the Earth Observation Satellite referred occasionally throughout the story, which transmits the events transpiring on the planets surface back to Earth, 1000's of light years away – personally I think this aspect of the book could have been expanded upon & other sections chopped out entirely.
I assume this is all supposed to be set up as somewhat of a mirror to our own modern existence, but it either fell short of this goal or I just didn't get it. I'm not going to rush off into the next book of the trilogy – Helliconia Summer.
NOTE - the Amazon link is to the Trilogy Omnibus edition, a single volume that's (at the time of writing) for pre-order.