Read: 26th October 2020 – 28th October 2020
Spoilers in review: No
Rep: lesbian main character, sapphic love interest, non-binary side characters
CW: murder, illness of family members, death of family members, drowning, fire, suicide
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.
Take a shot every time I say ‘political’ or some variation thereupon. Actually, don’t do that, you’ll be sick.
I enjoyed reading this book! It was very heavy on the political intrigue, which was a really interesting way of building up and developing the world. There were times where I lost track of who was who and what exactly was going on, because there were a lot of different ministers and such, but considering that Ekata was in exactly the same position I didn’t mind so much. Whenever I was confused about what was happening, so was she, so if anything it improved the reading experience.
Speaking of Ekata, I loved her! She was in no way prepared to become the Grand Duke, and didn’t want the job in the first place. She just wanted to survive long enough to hand power back to her father once he woke up without wrecking too much havoc in the meantime that he’d execute her afterwards. This meant that she made bad decisions, but every single ‘bad’ decision that she made was understandable, and I never got the impression that she acted unreasonably. She had no idea what she was doing and it showed, and I couldn’t blame her for any of it. And her growth is great! She learns from her mistakes, and by the end of the book she’s finally savvy enough to make decisions that are right for a change. Plus at no point in the whole book is she enough of a fool to trust any of her ministers or her main rival for the title of Duke, so honestly she’s doing great.
I also really liked her love interest, Inkar. Her commentary on the food in Kylma (mostly fish) was entertaining throughout, and she was the expert in charming people that Ekata dearly needed to have on her side. I would’ve liked to see more of her and her developing relationship with Ekata. What there was was sufficient for a political fantasy with a side of romance (rather than a romance with a side of political fantasy) but even so, more of these two would’ve been more than welcomed.
There’s zero queerphobia in this book! There are multiple side characters who use they/them pronouns and this isn’t commented on. Ekata’s older brother has both men and women as potential suitors and this is presented as totally normal. Ekata chooses a wife rather than a husband and, while this does make people unhappy, it’s not because Inkar is a girl but because Inkar’s father is a longtime enemy of Kylma, and so she isn’t the greatest choice politically speaking.
The sequences in Kylma Below with the merpeople were so great, I loved them! I completely understand Ekata’s fascination with them, and her wonder at finally getting to see the world down there was both justified and believable.
Something that wasn’t so great was how many characters were insisting for most of the book that Ekata would have to marry the book’s main villain, Sigis. When the idea is mentioned that her brother, the actual heir, could’ve married him, it’s quickly dismissed with a reminder that Sigis isn’t interested in men. However nobody seems to care that Ekata is also not interested in men, nobody even asks for her opinion on the matter. This aspect was likely intentional, as you’re not supposed to like the people who are deciding that this is what Ekata should do, but Ekata’s narration never notes the double standard either.
All in all, The Winter Duke is a solid standalone fantasy that’s filled with political maneuvering and does a great job of having queer characters that are allowed to exist without having to have their existence justified or explained. The romance is very much a subplot, so if that’s your main draw then you may not enjoy this one, but otherwise I would recommend it!
I received an e-arc through Netgalley in return for an honest review
About The Author
Claire Eliza Bartlett is a writer and tour guide living in Copenhagen. Her debut novel, We Rule the Night, was described as “electrifying” by Publishers Weekly and “fierce and compelling” by Kirkus, who named it one of their best books of 2019.
About The Blogger
El is a 21 year old university student from the UK who loves to read and loves talking about what they read. They particularly like to focus on books featuring lgbtq+ main characters.