The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
Ekata is this close to freedom from her murderous family—once her brother is named heir and betrothed to some sucker of a southerner, she’ll be fast on her way to the university and her dream of higher knowledge. But on the night of her brother’s betrothal, her entire family is pulled under a mysterious curse, and Ekata is named the Duke of Kylma Above. Set upon by snooty courtiers, pushy advisors, an angry prince and the threat of war, Ekata is beset. Can she survive the week—can she pass the duchal challenges, wake her family and live through this new hell?
3.5 stars, rounded down.
Welp, this had a great hook, intriguing concept and fascinating world, but the execution was missing something.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the hell was my damage with this book, but I felt entirely disconnected the entire way through. I had a similar feeling, but not to this extent, with Bartlett’s debut, We Rule the Night, but there was something that amplified my disconnect from the storyline in general and Ekata in particular.
Perhaps it was the overwhelming urge to smack this pompous child upside the head and snap, “Get your head out of your ass!”
For someone who hated and despised her father—mainly for his general neglect of her and tyrannical rule—she sure emulated everything about him. It was weird how quickly she began grasping for power and making decisions in a bubble, despite all of the advisors who literally wanted what was best for the duchy (for the most part). Granted, who had her best interests at heart (none of them, for valid reason), their own interests, or the interests of the duchy, was definitely in heavy consideration.
There is a lot of politicking in this story, which is fine, save the fact that it was built upon haphazard world-building that was hinted at but never really and truly expanded upon. Like the magic. The magic system and economics of the magic were baffling. And the world of Kylma Below was fascinating, but ultimately what was one of the most fantastic parts of the story was again…missing something.
I think this book’s biggest faults was that it tried to do too much, and didn’t take the time to build upon itself. Instead of taking the time to establish the world a little more, sink deeper into Ekata’s head (I take that back—there’s a lot of time in her head—but give her a slightly higher level of political acumen because her lack of foresight and knowledge of who literally anyone was was criminal) to get something beyond her angst over…I don’t even know what, the storyline bounced from the mystery of Ekata’s family’s tragedy, accusations over Ekata being the one to do it, who to trust, Kylma Below, the evil prince and his pushy come-ons, and an underdeveloped romance.
Anywho, Ekata did have a sharp learning curve (and many flaws), and slowly (so slowly) began to realize that being a ruler didn’t mean being ruthless or smashing your authority down every time you felt threatened or glittery, intimidating clothes—it meant soft skills. Communication, trust, inspiration. A vision. She got better, but it took so long.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance, which was more of a situational positioning than actual romance, although it developed further into something real. I did like how the romance turned out at the end, which was a refreshing change from much of YA endings.
Overall, this was a little messy, and had a lot of promise that it didn’t quite manage to live up to.
Which was a shame, because this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. And that cover is absolutely stunning!