Firstly, huge thank you to Titan Books and NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’m on a fantasy kick at the minute as there seems to be a lot of great ones coming out this season! In a review I read of the novel I saw that this was more on the political side of fantasy which I love and haven’t read a lot of recently.
The Winter Duke is set in an icy castle which sits upon a frozen lake, however what is colder is the way Ekata’s ruthless family. All Ekata wants is to escape to university and with her brother, Lyosha, named as the Duke’s heir she already has one foot out the door. However, on the evening of her brother’s brideshow her parents, and her twelve siblings, fall to a mysterious sleeping sickness. In a matter of hours, Ekata becomes the (provisional) Duke and marries one of her brother’s eligible brides. All Ekata wants to do is investigate and experiment to find a cure for her family (more to help her get into university than to help her family) but instead she is forced to rule and learn how to use her family’s power otherwise it will be lost to her and her family…
Ekata was a brilliant protagonist, although she was reluctant in becoming the Duke (even provisionally) she didn’t come across as whiny. It was also nice to see that gaining this title didn’t change the fact that she didn’t know how to rule, as she never prioritised it before, and we got to see her struggle with the political landscape that she has found herself in and begin to learn to navigate it. I also loved seeing her try to navigate a relationship with Inkar, her warrior wife. Whilst her Prime Minster wants Ekata to do everything she can to push her away, Ekata has different ideas. There were many moments where Inkar had me laughing out loud with her great one-liners and the way she would insult Sigis (Ekata’s rival for the title of Duke). It was the characters of the novel which made me enjoy it so much. I loved their interactions (even the arrogant and frustrating Sigis) and wanted to see them develop.
As I mentioned before, I do really enjoy court politics in fantasy novels and thought this was done really well. I particularly liked the addition of the mysterious underwater kingdom, the Below, and its importance. Whilst the kingdom was interesting, I would have liked to have seen more worldbuilding for both kingdoms. We do learn a few bits and pieces through the politics, the demands of the different ministers and the coronation trials but I would have liked to see what we learn developed further and to spend more time with the Below to see the differences between kingdoms. I enjoyed how the novel was split into parts as the days passed as this gave a clear indication of how much was happening to Ekata in such a short space of time and how everything can change so quickly.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and feel that it would have benefitted from being a bit longer so the characters and the world could be developed a little more. It is a great YA fantasy and even if court politics isn’t your thing, I definitely recommend you check it out for the sapphic romance!