Political Intrigue and Clever Worldbuilding | The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 3/3/20
Pages: 432
Source: publisher in exchange for an honest review (Thanks, Little Brown!)

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.
Ekata’s dream is to study medicine. She doesn’t have much interest in ruling a kingdom like all her other siblings. When her family falls into a mysterious, magical coma, she must rule as Grand Duke as the sole survivor. At first, she expects them all to wake up—after all, magic is only temporary. However, as more time passes, it becomes clear that this attack has been a threat to the whole kingdom and it’s up to Ekata to weave her way through the political trenches to uncover the secrets of this strange magic. In this loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty and Anastasia, the stakes are incredibly high and nothing is as it seems.

  • Having read Claire Eliza Bartlett's debut, We Rule the Night, I already knew that I adored her writing. It is both riveting and masterful. However, it was Ekata’s inner thoughts that really captured my attention. Her snarkiness coupled with her desire to study medicine instead of being a ruler made her seem so real. Her internal struggle of wanting to run away to become a scholar instead of facing her destiny of becoming Grand Duke was an emotion all readers can relate to. Bartlett excels in writing characters incredibly well. If you're looking for fantastic, real characters, you definitely need to read one of Bartlett's books. 
  • When I heard about The Winter Duke, I immediately added it to my to-read list. The Winter Duke is a mashup of Anastasia and Sleeping Beauty. Two retellings that I didn’t know I wanted together until now. Though I must warn you, the mashup of the two is used very loosely as readers will find some elements of each (the politics of the Romanov family mashed with a magical sleeping curse) but in no way does it follow the same themes or concepts of the two stories. The Winter Duke remains an original, fresh take on a few elements we’ve seen before, such as a strange sleeping curse.
  • The world building is absolutely superb. Bartlett surely knows how to make her worlds come alive. I hope she returns to this world in a future novel as the concept of a frozen land intrigues me. The Winter Duke takes place in, only what I can describe as, Elsa’s ice palace. Yet, Bartlett structured her world so that while the palace sits Above, there is an entire world Below. Below doesn’t get explored as much as I would have liked. Both Ekata and I still have more questions than answers about what lies Below. 
scared disney frozen GIF by Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • The pacing is rather slow though I wouldn't call it a character driven or even plot driven book. It's more of a political scheming game where the characters tend to overpower the plot. However slow, the book is calculated and well-structured with several twists thrown at you to keep you interested. The chapters are very long which may be the reason why it seems so slow.
  • The chapters are divided by day 1, day 2, etc. This is rather helpful for readers. However, there are instances where Ekata wonders herself how many days has passed and both her thoughts and the chapter dividers seem to confuse the reader unnecessarily.
  • If you're going into this expecting a grand female/ female romance, you will be sorely disappointed. The entire circumstances of that relationship started out very superficial and continued on for political gain. As much as I'm happy to see diverse elements in YA fantasy as that is one genre where diverse elements are most lacking (though slowly becoming more present in releases), the relationship itself seems abrupt. As the story continues on, there are some affectionate, swoon-worthy scenes but most of it was rather surface level. 
  • The ending was such a shock as the slow pace switched to a jaw dropping, action packed pace in a matter of a few pages. The pace picked up considerably during the last 15 percent of the book when everything seemed to fall into place. 
  • I do enjoy that both We Rule the Night and The Winter Duke are fantasy standalones. It would be so amazing if Bartlett wrote a sequel to this one though. The direction the ending had led was most refreshing and it would be interesting to see how all the characters fare afterwards. 
If you're a fan of The Winner’s Curse trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, you'll definitely adore The Winter Duke! Filled with political intrigue and clever worldbuilding, The Winter Duke enchanted me from the very first page. 

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