Alright second review of the day. I know I didn’t post this weekend, but Friday you will get 6 chapters!
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
Synopsis From The Book
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.
Fantasy | YA – PW |Death, Political Drama, Lying, Betrayal | Standing Firm, Becoming one’s self, What is good for the people
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
So I really liked her last book. It was a stand alone, and I know this one is too. That is really nice, because it means I don’t have to expect almost anything with it. The premise is promising and I really like the idea of mirrored worlds. This book is less than 450 pages, so it should take me a bit of time to get through, but not forever. I’m excited! Let’s do this!
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
I truly do love this writing style. Claire Eliza Bartlett has such a beautiful way of words, that can consume you and capture you, spit you out and make you dream. If you have not read her other book please do. This one was a wonderful standalone taking place over a little more than six days. It was a pleasant and politically driven tail. Politics, magic? Sign me up and let me live in these sort of books forever.
The novel opens with Ekata watching her brother, heir elect for their kingdom, ruin is brideshow. A brideshow is an event in Kylma Above, where suitors send their daughters to compete for the hand of the next future ruler of Kylma. Lyosha, heir elect, and Ekata’s father, the current Grand Duke, get into a spat. Aino, Ekata’s maid, locks them in Ekata’s room and tells her that a coup is coming. Aino tells her to run, that they have to run and Ekata says no. For that is how it is for their family, they fight to kill each other to take the throne. Ekata wanted none of it, wanting to go to university to study instead. She will leave once the brideshow is done. Just a few more days. No need to run.
Day One: After a particularly bad nightmare, Ekata wakes up to a shouting in the ice halls. Aino had her hand around Ekata to protect her while she slept. Aino tells her not to open the door, but Ekata does and she is met by ministers and her dear alchemy teacher. They tell her that the rest of her family haas fallen asleep and will not wake up, it is almost like they are drowning. This means that Ekata is to become Grand Duke. She is crowned and then confronted by Sigis, a foster brother of hers who had taken over his father’s kingdom. He tells her to marry him. She says no. Running about with her Ministers, Ekata discovers that her family has been cursed by magic, not simply sleeping. Ekata is invited to the Kylma Below, and meets with the Grand Duke of Below. He tells her that he will help her with her trials to take over the duchy. Ekata’s meeting is cut short when she has to return to the surface and Kylma Above, where Sigis is with his army. He tells her he just so happened to have them, she knows he is going to destroy her, so she takes a ring, goes to the bride candidates and picks a girl. This girl turns out to be her father’s worst enemies daughter. Ekata is told to make her, Inkar, hate her as to not create a war between their people. Ekata fails, and Inkar demands to sleep in her room.
Day Two: Ekata is swept about in a council meeting with the ministers of her father. Reko, minister of the people, wants to create a parliament but everyone disagrees. He’s been fighting for it some time. At a public event, Ekata displays trickery magic to try to win the people, but the trails are declared to have started because she picked a wife. Sigis stands as her competitor. She meets with the archmandrite, leader of their religion, who demands that Ekata give her many concessions. Ekata does not and fails the trial. Knowing the curse is of magic origins, Ekata raids the treasury to see who did it, and search the ledgers. She hears Sigis talking to someone else while at dinner, about how they could just wake someone else because she was being difficult. Inkar and Sigis fight at dinner, with words, and challenge to a physical fight. Inkar continues to sleep in Ekata’s room.
Day Three: More meetings. Ekata is told to marry Sigis by her ministers, again she refuses. Inkar and Sigis fight. She returns to Kylma Below and learns how the magic pearls are made. She also discovers that someone helped someone above with getting magic, falsifying records. She speaks with the man who would have known, and who lied to her. Ekata visits her family and gets in a fight with her alchemy teacher. She raids another room, where a Minister lives, and has that minister and Reko put in prison. She then tries to wake her family and fails, almost killing them. Ekata goes to bed, and wakes up as if she were drowning. She discovers that her nightmare from two nights before was her almost falling to the curse, and she didn’t understand why she staid awake. Inkar and Aino save her. She and Inkar go on a walk to get to know each other better.
Day Four: After a council meeting Ekata interviews Annika, one of the two ministers that she arrested (the other is Reko). Ekata arrested Annika due to their involvement with perhaps taking magic from Below, although Ekata has no proof. Ekata then talks to Reko who demands that Ekata make a parliament and take the power from the Duke. Ekata goes to her counicl meeting again but that is cut short when she is called to Below again. Below, Ekata finds that the Duke Below has found the traitors. They tell her who it was that took the magic from them, and the Duke Below executes them. The Duke asks her to reexamine the trade policy her father had implemented (little trade to outsiders at an extremely high price. Below wants to trade far more than that). Ekata releases Annika and then captures Yannush, who was implicated by the trial in Below. Ekata also imprisons Olloi, minister of Below, who lied to her in order to arrest Annika. Ekata escapes from dinner later and talks to Yannush, who tells her the plan was to keep them all sleeping, and to wake one of the girls to marry Sigis, so that their country could prosper because Sigis knows how to make a good country and the magic limited trade was doing no one any real good. Ekata demands the way to wake her family. He says he will give it to her alchemy teacher. Inkar and Ekata talk and Inkar asks Ekata who she wants to be like her father. Ekata is woken from sleep to find out from Aino that her father died.
Day Five: Ekata’s father died from his lungs filling with water too fast for anyone to save him. Her alchemy teacher was hit with the same curse and was now asleep. Yannush was killed in his bed by “suicide” and all his notes were burned. The rest of her family is alive. One of her ministers demands that she marry Sigis. Ekata asks Aino if they can still run but Inkar tells her to take responsibility. Ekata speaks to Reko again and asks him to draft up the parliament plan and that he needs to become prime minister. He refuses and tells her that Eirhan will kill him if he tries (Eirhan has been the minister supporting her the entire time but also telling her to marry Sigis). Ekata and Inkar confront Sigis who tells them what he did to buy the ministers and the peace he offered them. He demanded she break off the arrangement with Inkar for him. She refuses. Inkaar and Ekata make out that night.
Day Six: They go to the moat for the Trial Below. They can not be touched by those Below for the trial once it starts. Sigis attacks Ekata and Ekata dives into the darkness. She loses Sigis and makes her way to the pearls that let her win. She sees the Duke Below who reveals that Sigis is alive, barely, after having been attacked by some sea creature. Ekata knows she will soon get magic and says she will wake her family and make a parliament once she has it. The Grand Duke Below reveals he did curse their family, and killed his own citizens to hide it. They tell her that they can wake another more suitable person if she doesn’t agree to their demands. Ekata tries to escape, and finds out that the magic is legitimately in their blood. Ekata almost doesn’t make it to the surface but Inkar saves her and pulls her out. Sigis is sent out too. Ekata is recovering when the final trial begins and Sigis begins his speech. She makes her way to the hall through the library, for a short cut, as led by a minister’s secretary and sees her youngest brother awake. Ekata realizes she has walked into a trap as they kill her guard. Ekata talks to Eirhan and Urso (minister of trade) how they betrayed her. She finds that the Duke Below acted first. Svaro, her little brother, is to be Grand Duke. Urso tries to poison Ekata and leaves her to die. Aino and Inkar save her. Ekata uses the knowledge of the blood to go save her family. Ekata hears from Inkar that they are preparing a coronation and Ekata confronts Aino. It was Yannush, Urso, and Aino that were in on the plan. Aino tried to save Ekata to get her away from all the madness, and let the duchy fix itself. Ekata tells Aino not to leave the room, that she will only exile her (because Aino did it to save Ekata, and Ekata does love her like a daughter does a mother). Ekata stops the coronation with a grand display. Sigis threatens war. Ekata tells him the Duke Below would never let him. She arrests Urso, and threatens the snake Eirhan. With Reko’s help she instills a parliment before her brother awakens and then gives up the throne so Lyosha can rule as their Duke in line with Parliament. Inkar formally refuses the offer to marry Ekata, so that she may actually travel with Ekata to go south (because Ekata isn’t staying and if Inkar agrees to marry the crown, she has to marry Lyosha.)
The parliament is solidified. After being backed by the archimandrite, Ekata’s assassination attempts drop. Ekata is set to leave to go to university. Her brother is ruling and her family is furious with her. She’s happy to be getting away and to see Aino again.
What I Liked:
Kylma Above Kingdom Culture; I really liked the fact that this culture is a harsh, cold, icey one, just like their environment. Typically changed over Reings by coups. Avenko royal family shows no fear and kill each other. Winter Rose is their sigil, a flower that blooms when the family is in danger – aka all the time. This rose is also a literal ice rose, and an invasive species from Kylma Below. Kylmian closed door language and Drysian is the official court language. Their Goddess is Sjiotha. How they move, what they eat. It’s seen as so ruthless and primitive, but they are also the holder of human magic.
Kylma Below; A really cool mer like, sea men and women culture. Their blood is literal magic, and they are interested in making a lot of money. It’s interesting to me that the lake they live in is deep enough and large enough to have crazy sea monsters.
“Ekata” Ekaterina; She was the 4th child of 13. She speaks three languages. She was a major nerd in sciences and was only 16. She had no care for the politics of the world, and for that she struggled when she was the one who had to take over. I do like how she tried to go about solving her problems in a scientific way. Sometimes she screwed herself (Inkar), but most of the time she did what made the most sense of logic. Politics were never her strong suit, and I am liking how she started to develop as a person. It will continue in a great way.
Inkar Bardursdatre; The girl who smiled. She is the daughter of Ekata’s father’s greatest enemy and mistress of the Emerald Order. I thought she was brilliant. She had noticed Ekata and that was how Ekata noticed her. She knew she was being used, on all sides. She understood her power. She was an outsider who was shocked by the culture she was in, but was trying to expand her world knowledge. I loved her.
Inkar x Ekata; This was a lot more friendship than romance. They have a relationship but no forevers and no “love.” It was lust they know that, but there was a connection between them that they want to explore and I totally support that. I liked how their relationship progressed.
Aino; THIS MOTHER. She was only Ekata’s maid, but she cared and loved Ekata so much. True love was between her and Ekata. She did everything in her power to protect Ekata. Even plotting against Ekata’s family. In some ways Ekata should have just listened to her and left, but she did not. I really liked seeing this sort of political savvy maid character who wanted to save her charge. She was a true mother to Ekata.
Meire; The girl from below that was pen pals w/ Ekata. She was sweet and cute. I’m happy that she worked to help Ekata so much.
Ministers; Prime Minister Eirhan who was sorta on Ekata’s side, but was mostly a snake who changed sides when it suit him, wanting to play both sides as long as he could. Minister of trade Urso who seemed neutral at first but was one of the ring leaders against the family. Minister of the People Reko who was definitely an antagonist but perhaps the only one who wanted what was best for their country, not just his pockets. Minister of Treasury Bailli who was also relatively negative against Ekata, especially after she raided his stuff. Foreign Minister Yannush who also seemed neutral, but was one of the ring leaders against Ekata and tried to kill her. Minister of Below Olloi who easily took bribes. Minister of the Hunt Itilya who we didn’t get much of. Minister of agriculture Annika, who pronouns were they/them/their and was framed by Yannush. I really don’t understand Annika’s role when Kylma has only ice and snow. Lastly is the minister of fishing Rafyet who I remember absolutely little of. Each (or most) of these people we see interact with Ekata. We learn more of them as she does, and I really liked seeing this culture group.
Farhod; Ekata’s Alchemy teacher. He was kind and cool every time he showed up, wanting Ekata to be her scientific self, but knowing she had different duties with her new found status.
Vilijo; Ekata’s new guard that died for her in the end. I did like him, even if we didn’t get to know much about him.
King Sigis of Drysiak; He was Ekata’s foster brother. He was cruel like Ekata’s father, having been trained by him. He doesn’t like boys, much to Ekata’s father’s irritation, because he did wish for Sigis to marry Lyosha who was heir apparent. He was 21 and was fine with any of the Avenko girls, because he sort of just wanted to take over Kylma. He took over his father’s kingdom and brought it to power. He wanted more, and more, and was the one that the Ministers believed could help Kylma propser. He was horrible and I loved it.
Avenko Fimily; A family of thirteen children, eight living girls and four boys. We only get the sighting of three others, outside of Ekata: Velosha, Lyosha, and Svaro. Velosha likes poisons. Svaro is eight and likes using dogs. Lyosha is the heir apparent and nothing like his father. He seems to be flimsy and a careless ruler, TBH defined as “brash and posturing” (pg 124). The mother and father hate each other, and the kids learned to kill each other like their father killed his own family. There are other named siblings in the book, including the older sister who died, however I can’t seem to find those pages in a quick scan of the book.
General Plot; The plot was far from surprising. What really made it was how ruthless their politics had to be and the intrigue of those politics and the magic of the world. I always like a good fantasy political drama, so I’m biased.
Writing Style; I love this author’s writing style so much. The dream sequences are scary and beautiful.
Magic System; This magic system allowed for most anything to happen but I like how ti care from the blood of the sea creatures below the ice sheet. It’s not my favorite magic system, but it was cool.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Not sure, probably nothing tbh.
“Frost bloomed edges of my mind, turning into petals as delicate as spun ice.” – pg 20
“I do not want promises… I will not give them, and I will not take them. Maybe next week we will part ways. But this week… would you not prefer to be with me for myself, and not for politics?” – pg 419-420