Narrator: Chloe Cannon
Published by Hachette
Published on 3 March 2020
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Royalty, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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She survived the curse. Now she must survive the throne.
All Ekata wants is to stay alive--and the chance to prove herself as a scholar. Once Ekata's brother is finally named heir to the dukedom of Kylma Above, there will be nothing to keep her at home with her murderous family. Not her books or her 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, and no one can find a cure.
In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother's captivating warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without--and within--her 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 magic and power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield them both.
The Winter Duke is an enchanted tale of intrigue by Claire Eliza Bartlett, author of the acclaimed feminist fantasy We Rule the Night.
I’m really torn on how I feel about The Winter Duke, because there were some really good, interesting, original aspects, but some aspects also fell short.
In The Winter Duke, Ekata’s whole family mysteriously falls ill, leaving her as the new Grand Duke of Kilma Above, a tiny sovereign nation with a palace made entirely of ice that sits on top of a frozen lake above a magical world of fish people. Kilma Above is a desirable duchy since it’s the only exporter of stable magic, which is temporary but the effects can be permanent. Also, in this duchy, it’s normalised that the royal siblings try to kill each other and the last one standing will be Grand Duke, however Ekata just wants to get away by going to University to study biology.
There was a lot to like about The Winter Duke:
- Ekata is gay and some of the characters are gender neutral: this is completely normal and never addressed as any kind of issue, which I loved. There is no sexism or misogyny: the title of Duke is gender neutral.
- The love interest is a girl and it’s a very slow burn (although I was SUPREMELY disappointed that Ekata didn’t ‘inherit her brother’s captivating warrior bride’ but actually chose her for herself, largely to avoid marrying a Gaston-like rival king. I was really looking forward to some conflict with that and the blurb flat out LIED).
- Said love interest is awesome: a tough axe-wielding warrior who demonstrates over and over that she will protect her wannabe scientist/doctor wife.
- It’s very atmospheric.
- The worldbuilding is so good. I had such a clear vision of what it looked like, the culture, the people, the water world Below, the food, everything.
- I loved the all the political talk. These were the consequences of being an active ruler, and Ekata was learning a lot about something she’d never had to think about before.
- The secondary characters were well written if totally obvious.
- You would think you’d get sick of descriptions of snow and ice and how cold it is but you’d be wrong.
Here are some thing that brought down my enjoyment:
- Although Ekata is bookish, she never demonstrates her alleged intelligence. She’s certainly not dumb, but she’s just not what I consider smart.
- Ekata sometimes just didn’t react to things. Near the climax, there is what I consider to be a massive betrayal, and Ekata just doesn’t react. Nothing. Did she even care? No clue. She just lets people accuse her of murdering her family, and doesn’t even explain that 1) they are not murdered and 2) she did not do it.
- This lack of reaction also happened earlier in the novel, when I had absolutely no clue how Ekata felt about her new wife. There was a distinct lack of introspection. I think the author was trying too hard to ‘show’ and forgot that sometimes we do need a little bit of ‘tell’. Similarly, when one character died, I had no idea, because it was too ‘showy’, but never outright said the character was dead, so imagine my surprise when it was revealed they actually died.
- The last maybe quarter of the book, I had a hard time following Ekata’s train of thoughts as she suddenly solved book-long mysteries out of the blue. There was no ‘if this then this’ it was like ‘aha!’ with no introspection or relevance.
- While it was a good mystery overall in that there were plenty of suspects with great motives, and I did actually guess what I think is the man antagonist early on, but I still don’t quite understand what actually happened, how it happened, or even why. What did the antagonist stand to gain from this? No clue. This was really inconsistent with the clearer writing early on in the book, almost like the whole back end was really rushed.
- The rules of magic were not consistent.
I listened to the audiobook and the narration was fine, except that the narrator sometimes struggled to give each character an individual voice.
I kept comparing this to Rhiannon Thomas’ Long May She Reign, which is another (non magical) book where an unexpected teen female heir has to suddenly rule while people try to control her and solve the murder mystery, but unfortunately even though there are a lot of things to like about The Winter Duke, it fell short for me.