Reviewing: The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Content warnings: Disease, literal backstabbing, unhealthy family relationships, mentions of drowning and suggestion of forced marriage

My Rating: 5 books out of 5

Highlights: 

  • SAPPHIC WARRIOR BRIDE
  • DUKE AS A GENDER NEUTRAL TERM
  • MAGIC
  • ICE KINGDOM
  • EVERYTHING

The night could be worse, considering. The likelihood of a public death was low.


I think this book may actually have been written solely for me. There’s magic, and pretty dresses, and a badass warrior lady, and underwater kingdoms…I devoured it in days. Also this is one of those moments where I have to draw your attention to the cover because ISN’T IT GORGEOUS?! 

Ekata is the daughter of the Duke of Kylma Above – one of thirteen children, only a few of which survive after most systematically murdered each other over time. Theirs is not exactly a loving and safe family unit. Ekata’s ambitions in life amount to escaping Kylma Above to attend university and further her career in scientific study far from the literal backstabbing of her siblings and their ambitions toward the Dukedom. So when her family falls victim to a mysterious plague, leaving her the only heir to the Dukedom, she is forced into the world she has been fighting all her life to escape. With the advisors of Kylma Above questioning her abilities, and the mysterious realm of Kylma Below – the kingdom beneath the ice, where magic thrives in the dark and frozen depths – able to withhold their approval of her leadership, Ekata desperately needs allies. 

Enter the warrior bride who honestly was my favourite element about this entire book, and that’s saying a lot because I loved it. Originally intended as a potential spouse for Ekata’s now ailing brother, Inkar is everything she is not – outspoken, charming, sure of herself and excellent with a sword. Fortunately, the one thing they do have in common is a mutual attraction – which makes it much harder when Ekata is informed she must drive her new bride away in order to sustain the stability of the Dukedom. 

There’s a LOT of politics in this book, and Ekata is by no means a perfect leader. She has spent her life seeing her father’s despotic rule as the only example of leadership she has to emulate, and as a sixteen year old girl suddenly thrust into the position of leading a nation literally on the brink of collapse into an icy lake if she doesn’t succeed, she leads the only way she knows how – by seeking to become her father. I find with the main characters of YA novels, speaking now as a twenty five year old woman, I have to remind myself constantly that this is a literal child and that when I was their age I was wearing enough eyeliner to put your average raccoon to shame in the looks department and being introduced to and then rapidly put off Malibu at house parties. If you put me in charge of a country at sixteen it would have been a total disaster, so I have to cut Ekata some slack here. It’s pretty clear someone has it in for her family, and she really is trying not to sink Kylma Above into the lake, she’s just not great at it sometimes. I liked how flawed she was, how she hoped her family would wake up even though she feared them all so much – because they were the only family she knew, and she was afraid. After all, absolute power corrupts absolutely – even those who don’t want it can’t escape its effects. 

And Kylma Below…I want entire books about this underwater magic kingdom, which fully acknowledges that deep water and those that inhabit it are utterly terrifying but also VERY COOL. It’s a beautiful underwater kingdom full of magic and wonder but also if you touch that plant it will eat you and you don’t want to go into the deep, dark water alone. 

The fact that this is a stand alone physically pains me, because I want to read more about Ekata and Inkar and the magic ice kingdom and everything. I loved it! 

2 comments

  1. The Winter Duke sounds like a thoroughly enjoyable book. I love stories that transport me if only for a day with engaging characters and lovely world-building. Well-done politics are also wholesomely refreshing. 🙂

    Like

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