Claire Eliza Bartlett
published: 13th October 2020
An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke’s daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.
When Ekata’s brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.
In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love…or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.
Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what’s right in the face of danger.
Galley provided by publisher
In a way, I didn’t expect to love this book, so I suppose this rating isn’t hugely surprising. I have struggled with YA fantasies this year, although granted a lot because they were opening books in a series, so I went into this with my expectations appropriately lowered.
Before I get into just why this book didn’t work for me, I just want to note, there was nothing bad about it. It was a good, solid book. If you like YA fantasy, if you like sapphic YA fantasy, this will be perfect for you. Everything I have to say is stuff that didn’t work solely for me, and therefore made the book really only okay. So honestly, your best bet is to just scroll past this review and carry on with your day.
That being said, here’s why I didn’t get along with it.
It positions itself as a political mystery fantasy, so I thought, great, it’s gonna be good. Only. Only, it being YA, it doesn’t have nearly the depth and engrossingness of the politics that I was looking for. That’s not to say YA invariably doesn’t (The King of Attolia does this excellently, although I will admit it’s moot whether you can classify that YA, as does Descendant of the Crane), but I often find that there’s a shallowness to it that there isn’t in adult. And that’s fine in some cases! It wasn’t here, for me.
And because it didn’t have that depth, really the plot ended up feeling somewhat flimsy. The concept was so good, but the execution wasn’t there. At 72%, I stopped for a moment, and thought that actually I couldn’t recall anything of note that Ekata had done in the past 300 pages. She had done very little actual investigating, complained a fair bit, arrested some people on dubious hunches and not much else. And if I’m promised a “thrilling political mystery”, I actually want to be thrilled. Not cured of insomnia.
What would have worked better for me, I think, would be if Ekata had been forced to work together with her wife, to properly investigate what was going on, because she genuinely couldn’t trust anyone (rather than this “she can’t trust anyone” but actually she does and they’re pretty tame when it comes to potential betrayals). Because that would then satisfy the development of the plot and that of the romance (more of which in a second). As it was, I just felt like the plot carried Ekata along with it. And to rub salt in that wound, the ending showed just how good it could have been all along.
So back to the wife. There doesn’t feel nearly enough development of that potential romance for me to root for it. Inkar is the saving grace of the book, and I loved her, but I never felt like I needed her and Ekata to be together. This is what I mean when I say forcing them to work together would have developed that for me. Instead, it’s more like they’re co-existing, until, for no discernible reason, Inkar starts helping Ekata (but only barely).
The final point, which is probably the most personal of them all, is that I just don’t get along with fantasies which have some dickhead guy trying to overpower and/or take the throne off a woman because it’s somehow his right. I don’t know what it is. I think I just get so overwhelmed with rage at him that I can’t properly engage with the plot. All I want is for him to get fully and completely humiliated (which never happens exactly how I want anyway). As in. Right then and there.
But, despite all this, I would still recommend this book if you looked at it and thought, yeah I might enjoy that. Everything I’ve said here applies primarily to me, so don’t let this review put you off this book. Especially since you’ll likely enjoy it more than me.