Review: The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

March 3, 2020, from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Young adult fantasy
Goodreads | Amazon

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.

2 stars

The Winter Duke had so much promise. I love sapphic fantasy, interesting settings, and political intrigue, and I was really hoping to love this book. Unfortunately, nearly everything about this book fell flat for me. Though the premise was excellent and interesting, The Winter Duke felt repetitive, with flat characters and no payoff.

Our grand duke is Ekata, a scientist thrown into the role of authority when her entire family falls under a sleeping curse. I did not find Ekata a compelling character at all, and the attempts at developing her character seemed forced and stilted. The rest of the characters were all flat as well. I was bored with Sigis, the antagonist; he was just so blatantly arrogant, pushy, and evil, and Ekata so bent on being disgusted with him the whole way through. The same happened with Eirhan. Ekata felt so static and repetitive, and so did everyone else.

I really wanted the F/F romance to save the day because fake arranged marriages are fun, when it’s written well, but unfortunately there was next to no connection between Ekata and Inkar. Ekata was so mentally disconnected from Inkar and any hint of emotion for most of the story that when the romance did happen it didn’t feel like there was any payoff or connection between them. Like everyone else, Inkar felt very flat to me, and I felt very apathetic towards her.

For a book that promised political intrigue and magic, I found none of it was particularly interesting. The concept of a magical and mysterious underwater world was fascinating and I was excited to read about it, but Kylma Below didn’t play a driving role in the story like I was expecting. I really wanted to see more of Merle, honestly. Expecially for Ekata, who was obsessed with Kylma Below, I really wish she’d gotten more time and more connection with the characters. I liked how diverse the worldbuilding was and how MLM/WLW relationships and diverse genders were completely normalized.

There were a lot of things I wanted from this book, and I feel like I got almost none of it. Though the worldbuilding was cool and the political intrigue started out as exciting, The Winter Duke became somewhat repetitive and stale. I don’t think it was a bad book, but it wasn’t for me.

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representation | sapphic main character, f/f relationship

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have you read the winter duke? do you have any f/f political fantasy recommendations?

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