53654438._sy475_She survived the curse. Now she must survive the throne.

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.

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
Netgalley eARC 432 Titan Books Fantasy (YA) October 13th, 2020

First of all, two words: Cover. Love. Am I right? πŸ™‚

I said not so long ago that I was going to steer clear from court intrigue but… I mean, the setting really pulled me in. I was the bee, the book was sweet lemonade. Or beer. You know. Anyhow… I can never resist a cold, wintry setting, inspired by Russian inspired themes (Romanovs, of course!). I always imagine grandeur, and tragedy, cruel yet romantic… hmm…

Yes, The Winter Duke most certainly delivers on the setting. Kylma Above and Kylma Below. Two worlds existing opposite each other, tied together by magic and a bloodline, separated only by a thick sheet of ice.

Anyway, Kylma Above is your above-land monarchy. Imagine the ice hotels up north in Scandinavia where everything is made of ice… I mean everything. So, yeah, this plus this ‘thing’ with icy roses. So lots and lots of icy roses. Nice, right? Why roses, I have no idea, but they sure do make a pretty sight. Fun fact, the word ‘kylma’ is quite close to the Estonian word ‘kΓΌlm’ meaning cold πŸ™‚

Kylma Below is pretty much an ocean, a body of vast water, right underneath Kylma Above. The people living there, I suppose, could be your merfolk and what not but also any other watery creature your imagination can conjure up. They definitely came across rather harsh yet fair yet cunning?

In a nutshell, an icy as heck nutshell, Kylma Above has this girl who’s mega interested in the Kylma Below biology-wise and because it’s all so awe-inspiring and she’s full of intrigue. This girl is Ekata and as she’s one of the duke’s 13 kids. And the only one to remain on 2 feet after an illness takes the rest of the family. So, yeah. Chaos ensues. Ekata is now duke, married to her brother’s intended, facing threats of all sorts. Talk about being thrown into it.

I loved the idea. But like on a good song, the volume button was dialed down a tad low. Why? Well… Personal preferences alert here so you know what this means… Read the book yourself to find out how much you love it!

Imperfect characters, especially imperfect main characters are the real deal and you always feel like you’re following a homie on their adventure, on the way to awesomeness or whatever. But Ekata. Jesus wept. She wasn’t good at anything, other than being curious and totally ‘checked out’. She could have had at least SOMETHING going for her. True, she had this whole ‘find my feet‘ as a duke and ‘shall I or shan’t I walk in my father’s footsteps because they’re some weird boots to fill‘ and bless her, she goes through a sort of a transformation but… she didn’t ooze confidence, it was all slightly cringey. It took her an AWFUL lot of time to accept the fact that she’s duke and she can tell the ministers to go suck it… like, really! I think, the fact she stood up for herself when it came to choosing her partner was about the only thing I saluted her for. She put her foot down and shook and stirred the pot a bit, hey… political choices and consequences be damned.

It could well be that this is how we want to see Ekata. All girls don’t always have to be confident and change direction in their life in the midst half a stride… true. We’re all going through that phase of finding our voice, so perhaps I would have simply loved a more mature character.

Anywhoo… A lot of things were cool in the book, but there wasn’t entirely enough of them. Like, I could sense the moments where the characters ventured out into the cold. A cold that would freeze blood in your veins. I loved that. I loved that there was a messenger bowl used in between Kylma Above and Kylma Below. Fun concept. I loved how Abovers, going Below were treated to some magic to survive Below… and speaking of magic.

Hmmm… I was, still am unsure, what the deal with it is. It seemed to have been a normal thing Below, but Above only the Duke’s bloodline, and only the current duke could know the secret of magic and use it for grand gestures in court… but for what purpose other than simple fear? I know not. And the whole family situation was altogether confusing as heck too.. well, not confusing. It was quite clear the whole sibling rivalry (if I could call it that, ha) and it felt unnecessary. Ah well.. that’s just me.

Finally, this novel has absolutely zero gender boundaries… A girl can be a duke (formally, a duke not a duchess.. I don’t know why that is important, but hey), girls marry girls without anyone grabbing for a pitchfork and at least one character who defines as ‘they’ as opposed to he or she.

All in all, I am glad I read the book. It was totally OK and quite fitting and suitable to slightly younger audience as the implications of death and love are entirely, ahem, implied and never graphic. The Winter Duke will deliver on what is promised, expertly, without the extra sauce this particular reader thrives on (*cough*Abercrombie grim*cough*)