Author: Claire Eliza Bartlett
Title: THE WINTER DUKE
Publisher: The NOVL (Little, Brown Young Readers)
Release date: March 2020
Trigger warnings: none
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time, THE WINTER DUKE is a rich fantasy world that captured my heart from page one. Bartlett transports readers with her flowing prose and hooks us with a heart-pounding story that left me thinking about it days after I finished the book. Readers will fall head-over-heels in love with Ekata as she discovers her true self through politics, war, and romance.
Here’s a summary from Amazon.com:
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.
Well, well. THE WINTER DUKE is one of those books that lives up to the beautiful cover and back-cover-blurb. In fact, it surpassed all my expectations and I couldn’t be happier.
Ekata is the main character, tasked with the daunting prospect of becoming the Duke after her father and siblings are forced into a mysterious sleep. Ekata is the epitome of everything I want in a female lead - she’s sarcastically witty, compassionate, prepared to do what’s right even if she doesn’t like it, she discovers who she truly is and what she could become, she’s assertive, and her character development kept me intrigued throughout the whole book. (Seriously, though, her comebacks are incredible and I love her dry sense of humor). I could relate to her especially because she didn’t really know how to handle romance and felt overwhelmed by it at first, but then slowly embraced it.
Speaking of romance, Inkar is the other female main character, and Ekata’s eventual love interest. I got a whole Selection Series vibe from the beginning because Ekata’s brother is looking for a bride, but when he gets knocked out, it’s up to Ekata to take over what they call the brideshow and choose her own bride. I especially liked the fact that Ekata chose Inkar because Inkar laughed at Ekata, which showed me right off the bat that Ekata would be a great MC since she was not vain or snobbish like some. Inkar is very much a warrior girl, and often dresses in tunics and breeches, accompanied by her axes. Go, girl. I loved how unashamed Inkar was of the fact that she was a fighter. The only thing I didn’t like about the beginning of the story was the character development of Inkar. I felt like I didn’t know much about her true personality, just what Ekata saw her as. I know that since Ekata had the POV for the whole story, it would have been hard to do that, but I think it would be neat if there was a flashback scene where we saw what Inkar was truly like when she wasn’t put on display for a brideshow.
Towards the end of the book, when Ekata and Inkar begin to transition from just knowing each other, to friends, to eventually (and finally!!) kissing, I felt that like Ekata, I had warmed up to Inkar and understood her personality better. For those who like slow-burn romance (that’s me), this book is definitely for you. It is very slow-burn, and we finally get some mild and gentle romance scenes from Ekata and Inkar right in the last 20% of the book. I was perfectly happy with that, but even though I love slow-burn romances, some part of me wanted Ekata and Inkar to spend more time together once they figure out that they love each other. I guess that’s the hopeless romantic in me speaking. :)
An aspect of the book I absolutely loved was the fact that there is a Kylma Above, the ice kingdom, and Kylma Below, which is an underwater kingdom. There is a duke for Kylma Below, but he recognizes Kylma Above’s duchy as reigning supreme. This whole underwater part was great, and I loved how different Below was from Above. Below can freely perform magic while Above cannot. Only the Duke Above is supposed to travel Below, and this advances the plot of the book as well, when Ekata finds out that someone has been Below. Overall, I loved how unique this world was compared to other YA books, and I would love to see a sequel eventually!
There are some splendid supporting characters like the horrible Sigis, Ekata’s maid Aino (who may or may not be an important character toward the end of the book), Meire (the mermaid-like girl who helps Ekata when she travels Below), and some other senators and council members who help to further the plot along. I must admit, I was confused at the beginning on the names of some of the court and getting them mixed up with one another, but as the book went on, I kept them all straight.
A great part of the book is that Ekata only has eight days to decide if she wants to marry Inkar, and the whole plot of the book takes place in eight days. Each day is split up into a different section of the book, which made it easy to follow along with the timing of things. I loved this, especially since it’s hard for me to keep up with timing in most YA books. My calendar-challenged brain thanks the author.
Overall, THE WINTER DUKE is a spectacular book that is filled with political intrigue (my favorite), secrets (also a favorite), and a beautiful slow-burn romance (very much a favorite). The story is brilliant and captured my attention from page one. It is known that I am a huge Claire Eliza Bartlett fan, and she did not disappoint. Her writing style is readable and encompasses what I imagine to be the language of the time. The f/f romance was perfectly done, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. Please, do yourself a favor and pre-order THE WINTER DUKE so you can read this masterpiece of a book.
If you haven’t already figured it out, THE WINTER DUKE receives 5 stars out of 5. :)