The Winter Duke
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.

The Winter Duke Details

TitleThe Winter Duke
Author
ReleaseMar 3rd, 2020
PublisherLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN-139780316417341
Rating
GenreFantasy, Young Adult, LGBT

The Winter Duke Review

  • Nenia ⚡ Aspiring Evil Overlord ⚡ Campbell
    January 1, 1970
    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || PinterestEver since I finished Holly Black's The Folk of the Air series, I've been dying to get my hands on other mature YA fantasy books that capture that same breathless atmosphere of sensuality, back-stabbing, and court intrigue. So many authors try for this vibe, but miss-- hard-- because they either aren't good enough writers to fully sell the worlds they're building, or because they try to dumb everything down to be inoffensive and Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || PinterestEver since I finished Holly Black's The Folk of the Air series, I've been dying to get my hands on other mature YA fantasy books that capture that same breathless atmosphere of sensuality, back-stabbing, and court intrigue. So many authors try for this vibe, but miss-- hard-- because they either aren't good enough writers to fully sell the worlds they're building, or because they try to dumb everything down to be inoffensive and uncontroversial as possible, leading to books that feel pandering and sanitized.I received an ARC of Bartlett's other book, WE RULE THE NIGHT, earlier this year, which was an amazing steampunk fantasy story about female fighter pilots in the midst of a war. Where WE RULE THE NIGHT was a book about female hot-heads and fiery blazes, THE WINTER DUKE is all ice. Set in a fantasy world split into two major zones-- Kylma Above and Kylma Below-- the heroine, Ekata, lives with her cut-throat family in a palace made of ice where it's always winter.Everything goes terribly wrong on the evening of her brother's "brideshow," the ceremony where he chooses his future wife. Ekata's whole family is struck by a mysterious sleeping sickness, leaving her in charge of the family's duchy. Ekata is considered the bookish, weak one in her family and is ill-equipped to handle being the Grand Duke, or all of the people attempting to manipulate and use her. In order to escape marriage to one such odious person, Ekata elopes with one of her brother's would be brides, a warrior from a lesser kingdom named Inkar, and with her new wife and a small circle of trusted advisors, Ekata tries to navigate not just her new responsibilities but also figure out who hurt her family-- and whether she might be next-- while also trying to keep her entire kingdom from falling into chaos, anarchy, or upheaval.So, yeah, it's a trip.There was so much about this book that I loved so much. First, obviously, the world-building. Kylma Above is so cold and inhospitable, and so are the people who live in it. The ice roses and the hilarious dishes (pickled shark!) really added so much depth to the environment, and allows you, the reader, to become fully immersed. I also really loved Kylma Below, which is a water world home to magic and mermaids and beasts of the deep. I kind of pictured it as being a cross between the Aquas level from Starfox 64 (amazing video game if you haven't played it) and Holly Black's Undersea. It was so good.Second, the romance between Inkar and Ekata. This is an F/F fantasy novel with an arranged marriage, slow-burn romance and that is basically my favorite thing ever. I talked about my sincere love for that trope in another recent review of a fantasy novel-- but, again, not a lot of authors can carry that off because it requires a really solid understanding of characterization. Bartlett did such an amazing job and it was great to see these two girls slowly begin to relax around one another and find intimacy in a kingdom that saw such closeness as weakness.Third, the plotting was really good. When you think about it, it's kind of like a challenge-for-the-crown trope meets a grandiose parlor-murder-mystery trope. It works really well. I liked seeing Ekata go through all of her challenges to hold on to her title while also trying to solve the greater mystery. In the beginning she was so uncertain and awkward in her role, and even though she didn't exactly become Cersei Lannister by the end of the book, it was amazing to see her grow into her confidence and apply her knowledge to finding out who the evil-doers were, while also getting better at her job.I also really appreciated a world where LGBT+ people are fully incorporated and depicted as being the norm. The "Duke" title is unisex and does not change depending on who inherits. The brideshows include men and women and it seems that Ekata's brother likes both, whereas she seems to prefer women. There's a main character who is non-binary, and no homophobic or misogynistic slurs are hurled around; this is a society that is dark and cut-throat but doesn't embrace the usual misogynistic and sexist pseudo-Medieval setting that so many popular fantasy novels are partial to.If I had one qualm, it was that the ending was a tiny bit disappointing for me. But just a tiny bit.Claire Eliza Bartlett is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite authors. Both her books have wrested five stars from me and I'm notoriously stingy with them. I hope she writes more fantasy novels, because she's incredibly good at them, and while I roll my eyes at the need for authors to turn all of their books into series, both of her novels are standalones and I desperately wish they were not, so there's that. I can't wait to see what else she writes and will be crossing my fingers for more court intrigue and kick-butt female protagonists, because I think we can all agree we need more of those.Also, that cover is DELICIOUS. I want to eat it. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!   4.5 to 5 stars
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  • Silvia
    January 1, 1970
    DNF @ 15%I'm sorry I just can't do it lol I don't like the MC or anyone else for that matter, I just can't bring myself to continue_____"lesbian political fantasy on ice" sure is a combination of words that I never knew I needed!!!
  • Acqua
    January 1, 1970
    I'm giving this lesbian political fantasy on ice 2.5 stars, but don't let my rating mislead you:⇝ If you like plot-driven books, not in the sense of "fast-paced" (this isn't) but meaning that you like complex and unpredictable political intrigue while character development can come second (as in, the characters are well-built, but the character arc moves at a... glacial pace), you'll love this book.⇝ If you like character-driven books and the most important part of political intrigue for you I'm giving this lesbian political fantasy on ice 2.5 stars, but don't let my rating mislead you:⇝ If you like plot-driven books, not in the sense of "fast-paced" (this isn't) but meaning that you like complex and unpredictable political intrigue while character development can come second (as in, the characters are well-built, but the character arc moves at a... glacial pace), you'll love this book.⇝ If you like character-driven books and the most important part of political intrigue for you isn't so much the politics but the way they influence deep, well-developed interpersonal relationships, or the way circumstances strain people and force them to reexamine their outlook and loyalties, this won't do much for you. The main character doesn't begin doing these things until 75% in.This is a good book. I can't understate how much one part of the final twist (there are so many twists, and yet they all make sense) took me by surprise, and YA fantasy hasn't managed to do that in years. I also know that I would never have finished it had I not started skimming, or if it hadn't been an audiobook.The Winter Duke has an incredibly satisfying ending after all the frustrating events I had to read about, and the F/F romance was sweet, realistic, and just a treasure overall. Inkar was my favorite character, and it's a shame that for plot reason we didn't get much of her until the end.I also have good things to say about the atmosphere, since this book is set in an ice castle, one standing over a moat hiding a magical underwater city below, and that's just an amazing setting to explore. So is the idea of so many things being powered by magic when the characters' don't truly understand the forces at play.It only failed in what I realize is the most important thing for me - the characters, and especially the main character, who was really flawed and had sensible reasons for doing what she did (of course at first she thought ruling meant being ruthless, seeing how her family was; she's a victim perpetuating the cycle) but kept not learning from her mistakes, over and over and over, almost only because it was necessary for her to be dense for the plot to move forward.I had to spend more than half of this book reading the same scenes with the same dynamic: Ekata tries to keep Inkar away, tries to rule without thinking of the consequences first and alienates people in the process, her prime minister scolds her, she keeps trying to wake up her father even when it's obvious that would be the worst move, and tries to fend off Sigis' advances without success. That was the other problem, apart from how repetitive this dynamic was - I constantly had to read about skeevy Sigis, and I was so tired of that. Sigis this, Sigis that, Sigis invades Ekata's personal space, Sigis creeps her out, Sigis threatens her and her friends and is almost so efficient he felt like a villain sue at times (though in the end I didn't think he was one), Sigis gets more lines than the actual love interest (why). He isn't an interesting character, he was always saying the same things, and I spent most of this book feeling bored and annoyed until I started skimming his scenes: they were unnecessary enough that I still understood everything. While this is not a Beauty and the Beast retelling at all, it's the equivalent of a Beauty and the Beast retelling that dedicates no time to the Beast and has instead the main character talk with Gaston for most of the book. Why would I want to read that?
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  • Sherwood Smith
    January 1, 1970
    I actually finished this a while back, but my desk time bottlenecked. Catching up with reviewing now, I can think back and recollect so many stunning images from this book, which I devoured over a few days. It has stayed with me all this time.That cover really conveys a sense of the broody, cold beauty of the story. Bartlett's worldbuilding is trenchantly magnificent (oh those frozen roses!), and strong characterization contrasts the complexity of the world.Teenage Ekata is the only one awake I actually finished this a while back, but my desk time bottlenecked. Catching up with reviewing now, I can think back and recollect so many stunning images from this book, which I devoured over a few days. It has stayed with me all this time.That cover really conveys a sense of the broody, cold beauty of the story. Bartlett's worldbuilding is trenchantly magnificent (oh those frozen roses!), and strong characterization contrasts the complexity of the world.Teenage Ekata is the only one awake after a mysterious, clearly magical, illness strikes down the rest of her huge, obnoxiously (and lethally) competitive family. Her father, the grand duke, is also laid low, and Ekata must step up. But nobody, including her, thinks she's strong enough to hold the government. She tries her best to be her father: hard, heartless, brutal when necessary, uttering threats as her own life is threatened. Carrying them out to prove she's not all bark and no bite. But the emotional cost is exponential.Meanwhile events must go on as scheduled to convey a semblance of normalcy, including a bride viewing, which had initially been scheduled for Ekata's older brother, the putative heir. I was interested in this choice of words, bride, as both males and females can be considered. Turns out that word choice isn't examined, but the story is so involving I never really noticed that once events began to accelerate.Ekata chooses Inkar, a woman from another land whose personality is a contrast to Ekata's mood-swinging desperation. Watching these two slowly get to know one another, and to trust, is one of the many pleasures of this book.Politics abound, as do assassination attempts, and don't forget the magic. Kylma Above is the land Ekata is trying to rule. Kylma Below is in a sense a mirror land undersea, where the magic Ekata's family depends on originates. Ekata has to discover the source of the magic, along with holding onto her throne. And her life.Bartlett does a terrific job with a teenager who is smart, but knows she's way out of her depth. Meanwhile there is the Gaston-like handsome suitor who is after her (and her kingdom) and politicians who want to do away with royalty entirely, and . . . and . . . and!The pacing rips along until the end, leaving me wondering what magic Bartlett will create next. Brava!Copy provided by publisher
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  • Leelynn (Sometimes Leelynn Reads) ❤
    January 1, 1970
    Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Fantastic Flying Book Club, Netgalley, and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.Okay this book? Wow. It was right about making me intrigued with that plot. There was so much in this book that I really liked, from our MC to the plot to the some of the Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Fantastic Flying Book Club, Netgalley, and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.Okay this book? Wow. It was right about making me intrigued with that plot. There was so much in this book that I really liked, from our MC to the plot to the some of the little nuiances that you could see from the author.Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen a book like this before, but it was absolutely great. I’m so curious to see how the audiobook is because I like being able to go back to ARCs I read after they are published and either reading them again or listening to them for the first time. It’s really just a whole different experience to me honestly.Oh and did I mention that the whole trying to kill each other thing was freaking an amazing way for me to get hooked at the very beginning? Seriously, I know the synopsis mentioned Ekata’s murderous family but like… I wasn’t thinking that they were trying to kill each other?!My favorite tutor said that other people’s siblings were noisy, argumentative telltales. My siblings tried to murder one another.
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  • OutlawPoet
    January 1, 1970
    Whew!Okay, at its heart, this is kind of basic YA. Our main character is THE ONE and she switches from boring to bold at the drop of a hat. I didnt really get the geography of our world. (No spoilers but the identity of the folks from Below wasa strange choice) and didnt understand how the kingdoms (dukedoms?) worked in this world or whywell, why anything at all.I loved, loved, loved our main characters wife. In fact, I found myself thinking that the book would be kind of amazing written from Whew!Okay, at its heart, this is kind of basic YA. Our main character is THE ONE and she switches from boring to bold at the drop of a hat. I didn’t really get the geography of our world. (No spoilers but the identity of the folks from Below was…a strange choice) and didn’t understand how the kingdoms (dukedoms?) worked in this world or why…well, why anything at all.I loved, loved, loved our main character’s wife. In fact, I found myself thinking that the book would be kind of amazing written from her point of view. She had so much fire! And the romance is very sweet.BUT (and I use all caps for a reason), what the author does with her characters when it comes to sexuality and gender is inspired. You see, she gives us a world where people don’t pay any attention to gender when it comes to love. Loving a person of the same gender – or even a political marriage with the same gender – isn’t a shock or a shame or anything but…normal. Our author also gives us non-binary characters who are just characters. No calling special attention to them. This is a standard trope-y YA book with characters who happen to be gay or non-binary in a world where it’s not only accepted, but just everyday. There’s no coming of age. No heavy hearts about it. No discrimination. And it’s awesome. We need more books like this. There’s a ton of trauma in this book – and none of it has to do with sexuality.Breaking down my rating:5 Stars for doing something so needed in the book world and doing it so effortlessly.3 Stars for trope-y YA – regardless of gender/sexuality of the characters.4 Stars in total.I am glad I read it.
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  • ♡ Dakota ♡ (Sarcasm is my middle name)
    January 1, 1970
    Excuse Me?!? Who said you could be so gorgeous?!? And have the audacity to have an amazing premise too! You truly have it all, dont you? How dare you. ... Also please take my money in 2020 ... and be good. Excuse Me?!? Who said you could be so gorgeous?!? And have the audacity to have an amazing premise too! You truly have it all, don’t you? How dare you. ... Also please take my money in 2020 ... and be good.
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  • Wealhtheow
    January 1, 1970
    She inherits her brother's warrior bride, you say?
  • Dark Lordette Jennymort ♔
    January 1, 1970
    um ... mothafuckin yes pls?!
  • Isabel
    January 1, 1970
    This was super cute. I loved how the author portrayed the unknown in a new relationship, the joking and teasing. Also as well how our MC struggle to conform to the life that they have wanted for her, and what she ultimately want for herself. I did not see some of the twist that came my way with this book, and I did not think some of like totally made sense but it didnt matter bc the root of the book felt like it was for the relationships portrayed. Both good and bad. Def some really fucking bad This was super cute. I loved how the author portrayed the unknown in a new relationship, the joking and teasing. Also as well how our MC struggle to conform to the life that they have wanted for her, and what she ultimately want for herself. I did not see some of the twist that came my way with this book, and I did not think some of like totally made sense but it didnt matter bc the root of the book felt like it was for the relationships portrayed. Both good and bad. Def some really fucking bad ones. Like keep men away from me bad. The romance was super cute. I really enjoyed that aspect. Honestly, this was a read that I really liked and it had the things i was looking for in it.Also huge fucking creds for being a standalone.
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  • michelle (magical reads)
    January 1, 1970
    read on my blog + a playlist I made for the book + a giveaway!**I received an ARC for this blog tour. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.** My favorite tutor said that other peoples siblings were noisy, argumentative telltales. My siblings tried to murder one another. Ive been so pumped for this book since the cover reveal; I mean, just look at it! Its gorgeous! And then I found out that this book is sapphic, and I was even more excited for it. This read on my blog + a playlist I made for the book + a giveaway!**I received an ARC for this blog tour. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.** My favorite tutor said that other people’s siblings were noisy, argumentative telltales. My siblings tried to murder one another. I’ve been so pumped for this book since the cover reveal; I mean, just look at it! It’s gorgeous! And then I found out that this book is sapphic, and I was even more excited for it. This book did not disappoint; The Winter Duke was a slow-paced fantasy with wonderful worldbuilding and great characters.Ekata is forced to take the throne after a mysterious illness strikes her parents and her 12 siblings. Ironically, she’s the only one of them who’s never wanted the throne so she has to figure out how to navigate this political world that she’s ignored for so long. However, she’s only provisional grand duke, so she still has to compete for the actual title against her former foster brother, Sigis. “I could make you a ring with a diamond the same color as your eyes.”“Gray?” Did he really think that was romantic? My favorite part is when, since she refuses to marry Sigis, she marches into the room where all the prospective spouses from the brideshow are, and she chooses Inkar, simply because she was annoyed that she was laughing at her. Ekata immediately declares her her wife and then walks out; the gayest power move ever honestly!Meanwhile, Ekata also has to solve the question of who cursed her family all while trying not to be assassinated. In a way, this book reminded me of Bitterblue in that she’s navigating a political world and uncovering secrets.The worldbuilding was interesting; basically the Avenko family rules the duchy Above, and the Below is a kingdom under the lake that has magic. They’re the only ones who are in communication with the Below, so they’re the only ones who control all the magic that’s exported. I’m an Avenko, I tried to tell myself. I was born to this. Anyways, what I loved about this book is that from the very beginning, it is made clear that this is not a heteronormative world. Numerous nonbinary side characters are mentioned, and the brideshow consists of people of all genders. Originally the brideshow was for Ekata’s brother and then Ekata picks from the same people, and it’s never questioned. And, of course, this book features a f/f ship at the forefront.Ekata and Inkar were amazing together! Inkar pushes her past her boundaries, and they bond quickly, despite Ekata trying to keep her at arm’s length. I really loved their dynamic! Ekata is the epitome of the awkward, oblivious science nerd, and Inkar is the soft, buff jock. I think an unconventional grand duke deserves an unconventional consort. My only complaint is that I was really into the first and last third of the book, but the middle third dragged a lot and not much happened, plot-wise. It is a slow-paced fantasy though, so I should have expected it.The Winter Duke was an amazing read with normalized gay relationships, wonderful worldbuilding, and lovely characters. I definitely recommend it, especially if you want to read a sapphic fantasy!
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  • Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard
    January 1, 1970
    Look. We've established I'll buy anything related--even vaguely--to Anastasia
  • Kal ★ Reader Voracious
    January 1, 1970
    "My siblings tried to murder one another.But not this night. Tonight we had a strict no-murder policy." The excerpt has me so hyped for this book! You can read the first chapter here on the NOVL's cover reveal! Blog | Twitter | Pinterest
  • Toya
    January 1, 1970
    Ekata has only known a life of danger, betrayal, and treachery being surrounded by twelve murderous siblings. When Ekatas brother Lyosha is officially named heir, there is nothing in Kylma Above that will keep her there any longer, which includes her scientific experiments and textbooks and the lure of Kylma Below, the intriguing world under water that supplies her familys magic. Ekata yearns for a life at University. Just when Ekatas escape is finally within her grasp, her parents and siblings Ekata has only known a life of danger, betrayal, and treachery being surrounded by twelve murderous siblings. When Ekata’s brother Lyosha is officially named heir, there is nothing in Kylma Above that will keep her there any longer, which includes her scientific experiments and textbooks and the lure of Kylma Below, the intriguing world under water that supplies her family’s magic. Ekata yearns for a life at University. Just when Ekata’s escape is finally within her grasp, her parents and siblings succumb to a magical sleeping curse, and she’s the only left awake.Within the span of a night, Ekata has inherited the title of Grand Duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and the challengers (both within and outside her council) who wish to encroach upon her lands and territory now that her father is out of the way. Ekata never paid attention to diplomacy or politics. She only cared about studying her specimens. Now she must quickly rise above her circumstances and learn political maneuvering if she is to seize her family’s power before those around her not only destroy her kingdom, but her as well.In line with We Rule the Night, Bartlett has crafted another intriguing tale in The Winter Duke that is chock full of political intrigue, family drama, love, and magic. She pulls you into a richly imagined fantasy world with both Kylma Above and Kylma Below.Each of the characters in this story were well-defined and fantastic. Ekata was the princess who wanted to escape the holds of her family and relinquish any expectations of her, but she is forced to confront her new responsibilities as ruler of her kingdom. Ekata’s wife Inkar is the daughter of a known enemy to Kylma Above who finds herself in a completely foreign land. Both women face so much adversity, but it was amazing to watch their characters develop as well as grow together.I honestly could read an entire book dedicated to Kylma Below. This underwater world is so mysterious and intriguing. The magic is incredible as well as the inhabitants. I hope that we can see more of this in the future!Another aspect of this novel that I loved is that even though there are queer and non-binary characters in this book, it is NORMAL. It is never explicitly addressed. The story just carries on as if this is how the world always is, and why would you think any different. This is so important in books these days, and I hope that this is a trend that continues. Honestly, huge kudos to Bartlett for that!Thank you to The NOVL for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
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  • Sophie Elaina
    January 1, 1970
    Oooo this sounds sooo good! And that cover is...😍👀❄ Oooo this sounds sooo good! And that cover is...😍👀❄️
  • Vee_Bookish
    January 1, 1970
    This is gonna sit on my TBR pile forever isn't it
  • Kristi Housman Confessions of a YA Reader
    January 1, 1970
    4 1/2 starsRTC for blog tour. Thank you to the publisher for sending me an earc.
  • Megan
    January 1, 1970
    I was not expecting this book. Listen, you read the cover copy and you're like, "I'm pretty sure this will be gay, but will it actually be gay?" Friends, this book is So Gay. Political intrigue in YA can sometimes be a bit tame for me, but this book dug in: there were assassination attempts, public arrests, cabinet meeting shouting matches, wheeling and dealing, at least three separate coups, fancy dinners were people sniped at each other verbally while eating regional delicacies, marriage I was not expecting this book. Listen, you read the cover copy and you're like, "I'm pretty sure this will be gay, but will it actually be gay?" Friends, this book is So Gay. Political intrigue in YA can sometimes be a bit tame for me, but this book dug in: there were assassination attempts, public arrests, cabinet meeting shouting matches, wheeling and dealing, at least three separate coups, fancy dinners were people sniped at each other verbally while eating regional delicacies, marriage proposals, slimy prime ministers--listen, this book was intense and I appreciated it so much. The worldbuilding took a hard left at about 60 pages and I was genuinely intrigued, delighted, and surprised repeatedly after that. I did not expect the neighboring country to be what it was, and I don't want to spoil, but just know that it is pretty damn cool and threads beautifully through the rest of the book. [edit: OH HEY, THEY ADDED THE FACT THAT THERE'S MERPEOPLE TO THE COVER COPY, EXCELLENT: LISTEN IT WAS A SURPRISE AND IT WAS AMAZING] Ekata is ruthless, reckless, calculating, curious, and just shy of unlikeable--the destruction and subsequent reconstruction of her character is perfectly paralleled in her country and the magic of this world, and it was fascinating to see unfold. I can't say I liked Ekata, but I sure did love watching her terrible decisions and their consequences, and her slowly learning how to handle her fast-paced world. And her relationship with Inkar was such a major part of her growth; I loved. every. single. part of that. (and here's one spoiler that I feel is important: (view spoiler)[you don't get a lot of queer stories with happy endings, so it was amazing to end on such a high note between Ekata and Inkar. (hide spoiler)]) This book is the most recent winner of the Keeping Me Up Until 1am Because It's Gayer Than I Thought It Would Be Award, and I was wholly surprised by how much I loved it.
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  • Fanna
    January 1, 1970
    - compared to Girls of Paper and Fire and The Priory of the Orange Tree - feminist female MC- queer love interest
  • Amber (The Book Bratz)
    January 1, 1970
    Holy shit I need this book right now 🤩🤩🤩
  • Laura ☾★ The Wandering Witch ☆☽
    January 1, 1970
    ★★★.5This was good! A good solid read. It wasn't amazing or a new favourite or anything but I'm definitely glad I read itSo whats going on here?Ekata Avenko thinks she has her life planned out, or the next several years of it at least; in a few days she will travel south, away from her kingdom made of ice, attend the university there, and eventually study biology for the rest of her days. However everything changes in an instant when, in the middle of the night, she is suddenly crowned grand ★★★.5This was good! A good solid read. It wasn't amazing or a new favourite or anything but I'm definitely glad I read itSo what’s going on here?Ekata Avenko thinks she has her life planned out, or the next several years of it at least; in a few days she will travel south, away from her kingdom made of ice, attend the university there, and eventually study biology for the rest of her days. However everything changes in an instant when, in the middle of the night, she is suddenly crowned grand duke of Kylma Above. Being the middle child in a family of 13, she did not expect to ever have the throne, nor did she ever want it. But her entire family, save for her, has been put into a magic-induced sleep that no one knows how to cure. And so Ekata is thrust into a world of politics, back-stabbing, an annoying and cruel foreign king, and a sudden marriage to a woman who's name she doesn't even know, all before her morning coffee. Not to mention the apparent plot to overthrow her, and possibly also murder her. No big deal. But due to a magical deal made with Kylma Below hundreds of years ago, an Avenko must always be sitting on the thrown. And so Ekata must work tirelessly to find the cure to wake her family, before the entire kingdom melts to nothing around her.What I lovedFirst and foremost, the writing in this is phenomenal. This is the first book I've read by this author but I'll definitely be reading more. Girl knows how to do a plot twist, DAMN I didn't see any of those coming! The Winter Duke was very well executed, and I found myself thoroughly entertained most of the time even though I don't usually care for political stories. I think the world of this novel made me more interested in the politics, especially Kylma Below. I like that we got to explore the underwater kingdom quite a bit, but I do wish Meire had a larger role. I liked all of the characters, I thought most of them were pretty well developed and distinct personalities. My absolute favourite thing about The Winter Duke though, is how Bartlett went about integrating LGBTQ+ characters into the story. If you know me at all then you know I love a world where queerness isn't even blinked at, it's just a regular everyday part of their society, and no one even thinks to think twice about it. I absolutely adore that (and wish I could live in any of those worlds, ugh) and Bartlett did an amazing job at capturing exactly what I love. I loved the casual use of they/them pronouns, the mix of genders for the brideshow, and Ekata and Inkar in general. The romance was so cute, although a very minor part of the book. Overall it was just a really well bookWhat I didn’t loveI had a bit of a hard time with Ekata, mainly because she's painted in the beginning as this really intelligent person, a scientist with a constant sense of wonder about the world. And we did get the wonder quite a bit, but I found that we didn't often get the intelligent lmfao. I get that she was entirely out of her element in the political world, but the way she went about everything made her seem kind of dumb? Like she couldn't figure out the most basic social cues, could remember every bone in the human body but couldn't remember a few names, and had so much trouble making even simple decisions or understanding basic policy. I think Bartlett was probably going for a more socially awkward vibe, and also trying to show that Ekata had no idea what she was doing (which is fair), but it came across as unintelligent to me. It was also a little frustrating as the reader because, since she was the narrator and didn't understand or listen to any of the political talk going on around her, I also had a hard time following along with the politics which made it difficult to really care about what was happening. I feel like if I had been able to understand what the people actually wanted, I would have understood the motivations behind the ones who did the thing that I won't spoil. But at the end of the book, while the plot twist was really good and very well done, I found myself thinking "wait, why did these people want all of this to happen? What do they gain from it, or what do they hope to change after it's all said and done?" So that was a little confusing and most of the reason that I gave this a lower rating than I otherwise might of. I also wish there was just a touch more romance to it. I really liked the scenes Ekata had with Inkar, you really got to see who she was as a person when they were together, but they weren't together enough for me to really get invested in their relationship (I still was though because f/f romance of any kind is an instant stan in my books, especially in fantasy since it's so rare).Overall thoughtsThis was great, I definitely recommend it despite the few things that I disliked. And I can't wait to read more from this author!
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  • Justine
    January 1, 1970
    See this review and others at Whispers & Wonder Grand dukes make grand statements. The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett is a YA Fantasy story beautifully weaved with mysteries, puzzles, and courtly intrigue. At its heart, its a cautionary tale of the consequences of attempting to be something or someone youre not by abandoning your true identity, and therefore losing yourself in the process. Within its pages we witness a horrific suffering caused by the sins of those that came before, See this review and others at Whispers & Wonder Grand dukes make grand statements. The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett is a YA Fantasy story beautifully weaved with mysteries, puzzles, and courtly intrigue. At its heart, it’s a cautionary tale of the consequences of attempting to be something or someone you’re not by abandoning your true identity, and therefore losing yourself in the process. Within its pages we witness a horrific suffering caused by the sins of those that came before, but a triumphant realization that there is ALWAYS another way, one that eliminates the need to choose the lesser of two evils. It’s a story of growth and strength, and one that demonstrates being different is not only acceptable, but should be celebrated.Bartlett does a wonderful job of creating a cast of characters that elicit strong emotions in her readers by making them relatable and incredibly easy to sympathize with. Ekata takes center stage as the only remaining member of the Avenko family not inhibited by a magical curse. Forced into an unwanted dukedom, she’s unsure, naive, and fearful, but her scientific mind and stubbornness allow her to forge ahead. By her side is Inkar, expendable daughter of a powerful enemy to the realm, and newly appointed grand consort. Her enigmatic, proud, and confident demeanor opposes, yet perfectly balances Ekata’s in a stunning way. Witnessing how their tentative relationship allows them both to grow is just perfection.The two are hemmed in by enemies on all sides, and most notably Sigis, a cruel and abhorrent king with his sight set on the throne. A ministry of officials consistently blocks Ekata’s path every step of the way, chipping away at her constitution and solidifying her uncertainty. Born into a family who would easily murder their kin to get their way, she has always been aware that friends are difficult to come by, and these scheming ministers only prove this. With promises of aid, she’s led astray by most, learning that she can only depend on herself and her own beliefs to see her through the storm.The setting of the book is breathtakingly atmospheric; Kylma Above, a city built upon the ice of the cold North, and Kylma Below, a city nestled within the frozen waters below. There is a profound beauty that accompanies the the dangers that lurk within the darkness and shadows of both, giving these cold landscapes a bit of warmth. Allowing readers to explore these contrasting places was an excellent decision, and learning of the tenuous ties between the two was a rewarding experience. I also found the emphasis on winter and blooming roses superb metaphors for change and the new beginnings that undoubtedly lie ahead.The story itself is dominated by a carefully crafted plot that takes so many twists and turns, the solution to the grand puzzle is difficult to discern, which kept me guessing until the very end. Bartlett’s incorporation of the inner workings of political ambition and intrigue alongside a whodunit mystery is done so seamlessly, weaving an engrossing and interesting tale. Simple prose with focus on the importance of the emotional factor made following this winding road an easy and enjoyable journey.The Winter Duke instantly became a book I needed to read as soon as I read its blurb, and it easily met all my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed wading through the political catastrophes Ekata found herself thrown into, and the end is completely satisfying and fitting for a standalone adventure (although I wouldn’t mind visiting again in the future!). If you’re looking for a tale of chance, trust, and seeking one’s true path, I highly recommend you give this one a try.Note: A huge thank you to Claire Eliza Bartlett and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an early complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for inviting me to take part in this tour.Be sure to check out all the other stops along the tour by visiting the official schedule here .
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  • Kathleen (QueenKatieMae)
    January 1, 1970
    Story wise, The Winter Duke is recognizable in many YA fantasy stories about a young girl who wants to get away from her murderous royal family and go to uni to study biology but extenuating circumstances lands her with a crown and a throne and no clue how to run the kingdom. Been there, done that. BUT, The Winter Duke has something you wont find in a large percentage of those other books: gender and sexuality are not an issue. Its not pointed out or brought to the readers attention; it just is. Story wise, The Winter Duke is recognizable in many YA fantasy stories about a young girl who wants to get away from her murderous royal family and go to uni to study biology but extenuating circumstances lands her with a crown and a throne and no clue how to run the kingdom. Been there, done that. BUT, The Winter Duke has something you won’t find in a large percentage of those other books: gender and sexuality are not an issue. It’s not pointed out or brought to the reader’s attention; it just is. The main character has a wife; a member of her cabinet is non-binary; the leader, male or female or non-binary, of the kingdom is always a Duke, duchess is not even on the radar. Stuffed with political intrigue, The Winter Duke, tells the story of Ekata, the only member of her royal family left after the others were found to be in a deep state of unconsciousness. Ekata has waited her whole life not to ascend to the throne of Kylma Above but to finally escape her dysfunctional family. When threatened with the choice of marrying the creepy Prince Sigis, her foster brother with dubious claims to the throne, or marrying one of brides meant for her older brother, she chooses a bride, Inkar, and marries her on the spot. Despite input from some of her father’s cabinet members, Ekata flounders epically in the first few days of her reign. She wants to cure her family so her dictator father can return to ruling, but her foster brother has challenged her claim to the throne. Now she must go through Trials to prove her worth. Thank the goddesses, Ekata has Inkar at her side. From a kingdom of horsemen and women, Inkar carries silver war axes, has lead the Emerald Army of one thousand soldiers and she knows how to gladhand a throne room full of politicians. Breaking rules, both spoken and unspoken, Inkar stays at Ekata’s side and doesn’t back down when it comes to supporting her new wife.There is a lot of backstabbing and betrayal and sometimes the political machinations became so overwhelming I found my eyes starting to glaze over, but the sweet relationship between Ekata and Inkar made the story very worthwhile. There is a magical element that is clever and well thought out, with a bold choice for the inhabitants of the kingdom below Ekata’s and is the source of all magic.The book is standalone. It’s a fast read. And I enjoyed it greatly. Now I want a book about the kickass Inkar and her Emerald Army of a thousand soldiers.
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  • sigaloenta
    January 1, 1970
    3.5-3.75: I like Claire Eliza Bartlett's books, so I'm going up, even though I didn't think this was a strong as her first novel. But it had an gloriously austere ice-palace kingdom ruled by a murderous dynasty, a grumpy self-centered middle child suddenly trying to cope with rule, a marriage of convenience, court politics, and an eerie parallel kingdom of fishpeople living below the ice and trading pearls of magic to the upper world.This book clearly owes a lot to The Goblin Emperor. Ekata, 3.5-3.75: I like Claire Eliza Bartlett's books, so I'm going up, even though I didn't think this was a strong as her first novel. But it had an gloriously austere ice-palace kingdom ruled by a murderous dynasty, a grumpy self-centered middle child suddenly trying to cope with rule, a marriage of convenience, court politics, and an eerie parallel kingdom of fishpeople living below the ice and trading pearls of magic to the upper world.This book clearly owes a lot to The Goblin Emperor. Ekata, like Maia, was never supposed to come near the throne and is suddenly thrust into political and dynastic dilemmas she has studiously ignored her entire life when the rest of her family falls mysteriously ill. In some ways, I found this version more satisfying: Ekata doesn't know what decisions to make, isn't confident in the direction of her rule, and isn't able to find uthority or allies easily. On the other hand, the secondary characters are pretty thinly drawn, and some of the "twists" were easy to guess. Still, I enjoyed it more than I didn't.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    Pretty much the only positive thing I can say about this book is it was easy to get into and a fast read.I understand that the main character was thrust into a situation without having been prepared in any way, but even considering that she was the most infuriatingly incapable character I have ever read about, which I wouldve gotten past if she had shown any semblance of learning how to assert herself better. Instead she opts for doing absolutely nothing except temper tantrum for a good 3/4ths Pretty much the only positive thing I can say about this book is „it was easy to get into and a fast read“.I understand that the main character was thrust into a situation without having been prepared in any way, but even considering that she was the most infuriatingly incapable character I have ever read about, which I would’ve gotten past if she had shown any semblance of learning how to assert herself better. Instead she opts for doing absolutely nothing except temper tantrum for a good 3/4ths of this book. Additionally to that the romance was one of the least engaging I have ever read with absolutely no chemistry between the characters,,, So save to say this book was a big fat disappointment
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  • Rayne
    January 1, 1970
    i really enjoyed the world-building and the political intrigue. also, it's great to see an author integrate LGBTQ characters and romances into her world so seamlessly without exploiting or mishandling them or making it feel like it is pandering.
  • Catherine Heloise
    January 1, 1970
    The Winter Duke is a fantasy novel set in an icy land in a state of uneasy truce with the magic-using water folk who dwell beneath the ice. Ekata is more interested in medicine than politics, and has spent most of her life trying to survive the plots of her various siblings, so when her entire family is cursed with a mysterious illness and she is the only one left standing, she is very much unprepared to be Grand Duke. The story is both coming-of-age story and twisty political fantasy, with a The Winter Duke is a fantasy novel set in an icy land in a state of uneasy truce with the magic-using water folk who dwell beneath the ice. Ekata is more interested in medicine than politics, and has spent most of her life trying to survive the plots of her various siblings, so when her entire family is cursed with a mysterious illness and she is the only one left standing, she is very much unprepared to be Grand Duke. The story is both coming-of-age story and twisty political fantasy, with a sweet friendship and budding romance between Ekata and the woman she chooses, almost at random, to be her bride.I would have liked to see Ekata begin to claim her power earlier in the book (it was so stressful reading about everyone pushing and pulling her in awful directions!), but it was worth waiting for. And I loved the underwater kingdom. Overall, an enjoyable read.
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  • Aamina Hashim
    January 1, 1970
    This was a very interesting read. If you are looking for something different with a bunch of reeeeally questionable characters with a hint of wry humour wrecking havoc in the name of monarchy then this is the stop. The romance though as light as it had been was quite cute and thoughtful.
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  • mahana
    January 1, 1970
    review on my blog ✧ "I didn't want to survive. I wanted to thrive." The Winter Duke was one of my most anticipated 2020 releases and another I expected to give 5 stars, but I was ultimately disappointed in. Dont ever have expectations, theyre a lie. Though, I want to preface this review by saying my complaints are 100% personal and Im aware others love these tropes/plotting methods. So, if you read anything in this review and like what Im complaining about, take that as something enticing for — review on my blog ✧ "I didn't want to survive. I wanted to thrive." The Winter Duke was one of my most anticipated 2020 releases and another I expected to give 5 stars, but I was ultimately disappointed in. Don’t ever have expectations, they’re a lie. Though, I want to preface this review by saying my complaints are 100% personal and I’m aware others love these tropes/plotting methods. So, if you read anything in this review and like what I’m complaining about, take that as something enticing for yourself instead of focusing on my rating.Ekata belongs to a ruthless family, all vying to consolidate their monarchical power. She’s survived copious assassination attempts from her siblings, while the more ambitious ones are pursuing brides in an effort to attain power. However, one-night Ekata is awoken with the news her entire family has become catatonic, cursed with an invisible, magical illness. She’s forced to take her father’s place as the Grand Duke and combats other attempts on the throne. In order to avoid marrying Sigis, her manipulative adoptive brother, she marries one of her brother’s suitors, Inkar. Now, she must complete trails to remain in power and uncover the cure behind her families’ curse.Let’s get the main things I disliked out of the way so we can focus on the positives after: this was really slow. I’m aware others are fans of slow-burn fantasy, so I’m emphasising again that this might be a negative for me, but it’ll entice you to read it. Not much happens in The Winter Duke until the last 20%, which was disappointing. I wish someone could explain to me how you enjoy these slow fantasy books. How am I supposed to pay attention to something when it’s boring me to tears? It’s very heavy on the politics and focuses on the intrigue within the court, while Ekata’s struggle to stay in power is illuminated. I didn’t find her character development or ambition boring, it was simply the lack of action to keep me entertained. If I don’t have any romance or action to keep me interested, I begin hating the reading experience.The romance was adorable, though it also took more time to develop than I would’ve liked. I wouldn’t classify Ekata and Inkar’s relationship as slow-burn (like the plot). The book heavily focuses on politics and there isn’t much space for romance in the meantime. Their first kiss is towards the end and the way their friendship develops from friends to lovers was perfect. I wish the epilogue was clearer about their lives together after the huge complication, however. I know they’re most likely together, but it felt very open.Ekata was an interesting main character to follow, mainly because she’s forced to become Grand Duke, solve a mystery, and get married at sixteen. I loved her character development as she considered the way she should rule independent of her father’s proven, albeit austere, methods. Meanwhile, Inkar didn’t seem to have a personality outside of her similarities to Ekata: one of many siblings, not interested in the intricacies of the court, but willing to be powerful in the role she’s given.I also liked how unique the world was in comparison to other YA fantasies I’ve read. Their kingdom is in an ice castle, referred to as the Above, that sits on top of the Below, which basically homes sea people in a separate kingdom. There has been strife between the two, but Ekata attempts to garner peace between the two with her new rule. As you can see on the cover, there were also ice roses and flowers, which are insignificant things with no meaning, but I thought they were interesting at least.The Winter Duke was a disappointment for me, but I still think there’s much for others to love. I’m not a fan of slow-burn fantasy with little romance, but there are plenty of people who adore that. Therefore, if anything outlined in this review entices you, I recommend picking it up! Don’t expect a whirlwind, sweeping f/f romance to root for, it focuses more on politics and intrigue.rep: sapphic mcs, f/f romance
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  • USOM
    January 1, 1970
    (Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.) I was completely absorbed by The Winter Duke. From the beginning, Bartlett makes sure we know that the world Ekata grows up in is one of murder, betrayal, and suspicion. Ekata trusts practically no one, and can you blame her? Her family, and their kingdom, is built on murder, barely concealed treason, and days where you are lucky to be alive. Described as part Sleeping Beauty, Ekata (Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.) I was completely absorbed by The Winter Duke. From the beginning, Bartlett makes sure we know that the world Ekata grows up in is one of murder, betrayal, and suspicion. Ekata trusts practically no one, and can you blame her? Her family, and their kingdom, is built on murder, barely concealed treason, and days where you are lucky to be alive. Described as part Sleeping Beauty, Ekata is left with the responsibility to figure out if she can both figure out how to save her family and how to rule. The Winter Duke quickly shows its fangs. And in this world of dangerous cold, blades in the middle of the night, and sweet words with cruel intentions, can Ekata do what it takes to survive? I loved the world building in The Winter Duke. Merpeople and underwater worlds are my current obsession and The Winter Duke delivers both. I first found out about The Winter Duke when someone told me it was a queer story. This has to be my second favorite part of The Winter Duke. Firstly, this world has absolutely no qualms about queer relationships, no eyelashes batted, no reservations about a queer ruling couple. That was instantly a great sign. But the queer love interest could be my favorite character. I don't want to spoil, but I feel like as soon as you meet them, you'll know what I mean.full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/blog...
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