Cover Image: The Winter Duke

The Winter Duke

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Ekata’s dream is to study medicine. She doesn’t have much interest in ruling a kingdom like all her other siblings. When her family falls into a mysterious, magical coma, she must rule as Grand Duke as the sole survivor. At first, she expects them all to wake up—after all, magic is only temporary. However, as more time passes, it becomes clear that this attack has been a threat to the whole kingdom and it’s up to Ekata to weave her way through the political trenches to uncover the secrets of this strange magic. In this loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty and Anastasia, the stakes are incredibly high and nothing is as it seems.

Having read Claire Eliza Bartlett's debut, We Rule the Night, I already knew that I adored her writing. It is both riveting and masterful. However, it was Ekata’s inner thoughts that really captured my attention. Her snarkiness coupled with her desire to study medicine instead of being a ruler made her seem so real. Her internal struggle of wanting to run away to become a scholar instead of facing her destiny of becoming Grand Duke was an emotion all readers can relate to. Bartlett excels in writing characters incredibly well. If you're looking for fantastic, real characters, you definitely need to read one of Bartlett's books. 

When I heard about The Winter Duke, I immediately added it to my to-read list. The Winter Duke is a mashup of Anastasia and Sleeping Beauty. Two retellings that I didn’t know I wanted together until now. Though I must warn you, the mashup of the two is used very loosely as readers will find some elements of each (the politics of the Romanov family mashed with a magical sleeping curse) but in no way does it follow the same themes or concepts of the two stories. The Winter Duke remains an original, fresh take on a few elements we’ve seen before, such as a strange sleeping curse.

The world building is absolutely superb. Bartlett surely knows how to make her worlds come alive. I hope she returns to this world in a future novel as the concept of a frozen land intrigues me. The Winter Duke takes place in, only what I can describe as, Elsa’s ice palace. Yet, Bartlett structured her world so that while the palace sits Above, there is an entire world Below. Below doesn’t get explored as much as I would have liked. Both Ekata and I still have more questions than answers about what lies Below. 

The pacing is rather slow though I wouldn't call it a character driven or even plot driven book. It's more of a political scheming game where the characters tend to overpower the plot. However slow, the book is calculated and well-structured with several twists thrown at you to keep you interested. The chapters are very long which may be the reason why it seems so slow.

The chapters are divided by day 1, day 2, etc. This is rather helpful for readers. However, there are instances where Ekata wonders herself how many days has passed and both her thoughts and the chapter dividers seem to confuse the reader unnecessarily.

If you're going into this expecting a grand female/ female romance, you will be sorely disappointed. The entire circumstances of that relationship started out very superficial and continued on for political gain. As much as I'm happy to see diverse elements in YA fantasy as that is one genre where diverse elements are most lacking (though slowly becoming more present in releases), the relationship itself seems abrupt. As the story continues on, there are some affectionate, swoon-worthy scenes but most of it was rather surface level. 

The ending was such a shock as the slow pace switched to a jaw dropping, action packed pace in a matter of a few pages. The pace picked up considerably during the last 15 percent of the book when everything seemed to fall into place. 

I do enjoy that both We Rule the Night and The Winter Duke are fantasy standalones. It would be so amazing if Bartlett wrote a sequel to this one though. The direction the ending had led was most refreshing and it would be interesting to see how all the characters fare afterwards. 

If you're a fan of The Winner’s Curse trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, you'll definitely adore The Winter Duke! Filled with political intrigue and clever worldbuilding, The Winter Duke enchanted me from the very first page.
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The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett is different. I wish I could come up with a better word but this is all I got.  The world is split into two parts. Kylma Above and the Kylma Below. Our featured family lives in an ice palace. 

Ekata is our main characters and she is more interested in medicine rather than her families politics. All she really wants to do is go off to school. Then everything goes wrong and unplanned during her brother’s “Brideshow.” This is a ceremony where he chooses his future spouse. The whole family ends up in some form of sleeping sickness except for Ekata. Ekata now has to play the part of the Grand Duke. She ends up eloping with of her brother’s would be brides named Inkar. Inkar is a warrior from a lesser kingdom. These two women are now off to figure out what is going on in the palace.

I found that the world building is pretty amazing. I thought it was very thought out and was planned for the reader to feel like they were immersed in the world. The Duke title is unisex so that no matter who inherits the title it will be the same no matter the person’s gender. I wish Ekata was a bit stronger in the beginning. I thought she was being pushed around way too much. I would have loved to see her be a bit stronger. I definitely think my favorite was the underwater kingdom. It was definitely the best world building to me. The plot was very slow. I really wish that it moved along faster.
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Let’s start from the world building – I loved the idea of Kylma Above and Kylma Below, and it added a very magical touch to the whole story. Both these lands were in full contrast; one being covered of ice and one completely under water. The author painted a beautiful image of both these worlds, not forgetting to detail even the minute details and descriptions. More than Kylma Above, Kylma Below intrigued me most. The world under water was super interesting to read about and I loved all the little mentions I got of that world. Merrie was super adorable and helpful but I wished there was more of her.

There were quiet a few characters and hence, I got a little confused among them. Especially the brothers of the Avenko line. But I got used to them later on in the story. Ekata or Ekatarina is an unusual name and the first time reading in books, and I really loved it. Even her character arc was beautifully written – brave and courageous but still human enough to be scared and make mistakes. I loved how the author showed the unpreparedness of her for the crown, and how she was so young and naïve and yet how she learns to be quick-witted and clever as the story progresses. Her character development is really commendable.

I loved Inkar’s character too. She was brave and sarcastic and yet soft at heart. I loved how she took care of Ekata and was loyal and brave. And her comebacks for Eirhan were the best. Eirhan was another favorite, so was Aino. But I had had my doubts on these two right from the beginning, and although I wasn’t absolutely right, I was still right to some extent. The best thing that I really liked were the unique names that the author chose.

The story was laden with some amazing twists and a great climax, I believe. It felt like all the time the author lead us on to believe something else while the whole truth was laid out right in front of our eyes. That was very clever and was written so well too. Right till the end, the author kept me guessing because every time I did and thought I was right, some new secret would be revealed and I’d be proved wrong again. That is something that I really loved about the story, it wasn’t predictable and it kept me hooked throughout. I was eager to know more, to read on and find out what happens to Ekata and Inkar and Sigis and all of the other. The author was also bold with her characters and wasn’t shy of hurting them.

The story was full of political intrigue that wasn’t really my area of interest but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It was twisted and uncertain and felt so real. The way that the author weaved the whole magical mystery together, while also retaining the threat and essence of the retellings is really commendable. There was so much tension and so much to reveal and say, and the author did not compromise on the quality at all. The fact that Ekata disliked her family and still wanted to save them showed how much we as individuals are ultimately bound by the familial blood ties.

Inkar and Ekata’s romance did seem rushed at times for the whole story takes place in the span of only a few days, but yet I loved them too much. They were adorable and chaotic and yet so so good for each other. And I absolutely loved the fact that the romance wasn’t the prime moving theme of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed this book more than I had expected to. It was just written with the right amounts of magic, secrets, politics, betrayal and romance. A perfect blend, with equally amazing writing and narration. A 10/10 recommend.
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I always say I am not a fan of retellings, yet I often find myself drawn to them. And, surprise surprise, enjoying them! What I’ve come to realize is that I really like retellings that are more Eastern European based. You know, the dark, dreary, and cold ones. So, of course I absolutely loved The Winter Duke!

Let me just say that Barlett writes so gorgeously. I was just sucked in immediately and I was loving every moment of my read. This is definitely an atmospheric read, so everything is very visceral in it’s descriptions. But because of this a lot of stuff is left not fully described. Yet, it worked in this story! I feel like this helped certain important elements remain at the forefront while the writing style made up for why some other elements were only partially developed.

Now, the other amazing part of this book is that it is gay. We’ve got an amazing queer mc romance and there was nothing strange about it. Oftentimes when you have LGBTQ+ representation in this setting there are some sort of hurdles the MCs need to overcome, but not in this world. In this book there were no gender norms and people were free to be who they were. I am definitely looking forward to reading some more Bartlett (I’m already eyeing The Good Girls).
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I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the world-building most of all; the world was complex yet very accessible to us as readers. We had enough information to work with. 
The plot had great potential, though it didn't live up to it for me. There were too many political scenes, which made it a bit boring for me. I would have loved to see more of the main character in other scenes.
The writing style was great, and it was easy enough to breeze through.

All in all I ended up giving this one three stars.
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The Winter Duke is here, motherfuckers!!!! Ekata is a scientist counting down the days to getting to university and away from her murderous royalty family until she’s the only one able to sit on the throne.




As you’d probably guessed, I fucking LOVED The Winter Duke. It’s queer, it’s nail-biting intense mystery of politics and magic, and and and and it’s so fucking great!!!

-w/w romance…

-….that’s not remarked on or made an ~issue~. It’s just normal and as natural as heteroshit.

-looooove the ending

-romance is sweet and level-headed

-royals as they should be: murderous psychotic white elitists families

-LOVE Ekata & LI!!!

-Interesting worldbuilding & magic


If you want w/w romance in fantasy land or more women kicking toxic masculine ass, this is a must.
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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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Welcome to a world where winter roses blossom on the walls of a kingdom of ice. All beautiful delights are perilous to the touch and these cold flowers unfurl with an enchanted pulse that beats to the lifeblood of the royal family in Kylma Above.

When the winter rose unfolds its lined petals, the royal family is felled by a mysterious condition that renders them all unconscious into an unending sleep...everyone that is except Ekata. While she had aspirations of a life away from her family's deceptions and the frozen court, she must now become the Grand Duke that represents Kylma Above. 

From marrying a stranger in the royal brideshow originally intended for her brother, venturing into the otherworldly land of Below, and keeping an army at bay, Ekata will find that discovering who is behind her family's downfall will be the only thing that ensures her survival....and that of her kingdom. 

Author Claire Eliza Bartlett was able to create a tale of high fantasy from the depths of winter that was absolutely mesmerizing to read. Like a first snowfall, readers will be whirling around to take in every element around Ekata's life and the newfound situation she has found herself in. I quite enjoyed reading the intricacies of the politics of Kylma Above the the mysterious landscape in Kylma Below. Bartlett was able to build a great pace where the elaborate nature of the book was allowed an organic space to unfold the conspiracies that surrounded Ekata and her throne. By the end of The Winter Duke, Ekata is an individual who grows into her own sense of self through the trials she undergoes, love she welcomes, and the courage to find her own voice.

Come and visit for a spell. Just be wary lest you catch a curse.
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As always, a copy of this book was provided by the authors in exchange for my honest review. This does not effect my opinion in any way. 

Claire Eliza Bartlett's words felt like the sharp chill of an icicle against my mind. The entire time that I devoted to reading The Winter Duke, I felt decidedly uneasy and yet simultaneous intrigued. Every inch of this book felt as though it were written for me and there's no good way to describe how it was quick to chill me to the bone. As far as YA fantasy goes, this proved my point from the end of last year: 2020 is set to be a stellar year in the genre.

The Winter Duke encompasses everything I love about fantasy. There's this familiarity to it that grips you from the start--the peculiar curse that befalls one family is the starting point for this one. While the story is set within a world of ice and violence, there's something subtly dangerous about it that can just as easily warm your finger tips as it can freeze your brain. (Ugh, did I just make a Heathers musical reference again? Sorry.)

There's this stunning quality to Claire Eliza Bartlett's writing that feels so captivating, I finished this book in one sitting. I literally could not tear my eyes away from its pages and I'm glad for it. You know a story is nothing short of icy brilliance when you never want to look away from. To say that The Winter Duke is hypnotic and magnetic would be an understatement. It is, undeniably, one of those books that has the IT factor.

Although the world building is intense and dreamy, one of the most striking qualities in The Winter Duke is the way in which everything unfolds through the eyes of our main character. Ekata is sympathetic--she is not unlike a chosen one who absolutely does not want to be any part of any destiny, ever. The story begins to turn in the moments after one of her twelve siblings is named heir; soon after, a sleeping sickness/curse hits her family full force, leaving her to reluctantly inherit the throne.

The Winter Duke was destined to be a solid release, but it wouldn't be as enthralling as it was without Ekata. She is the center of the story in a way that makes the story all the more breathless. And every story needs a center.

Her connections with her family are rarely explored beyond mention of how, er, murderous they are towards one another and how desperately she wants to get away from them and what they stand for. (And, admittedly, I'd like to have known a bit more on their line.) Still, the relationship she holds with Aino, a mother-like figure, and Inkar are the true shining stars of The Winter Duke in terms of relationships.

While the story is, at its core, an icy and dangerous adventure, these relationships are where the story gets its warmth from. Aino and Ekata have some complications in their relationships, but their bond is warm and easy to love. And the manner in which Ekata and Inkar fall in love is a sizzling delight from start to finish--I love the tropes used within their connection and am so excited to see a WLW relationship with a happy endgame.

Ultimately, The Winter Duke is impossible to put down and so engrossing you may have to call off school or work to complete it. This is one of the best YA fantasy novels of the year and, perhaps, the best LGBTQ+ based YA fantasy of 2020. Start the year off right with this thrilling tale of love, loss, intrigue and ice. The Winter Duke is pretty much perfection in my eyes.
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Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend and represented by the same agent as me.

One of the things I often talk about most enthusiastically in my blog series about long-established older writers is their breadth of ideas. My favorite writers often have a scope that makes me happy, ideas where one book will be wildly different from another. This is only Claire’s second book, but already she’s displaying the kind of range that I praise in authors with decades-long careers.

Claire’s first book, We Rule the Night, was a breathless adventure in magical airplanes, inspired by the Soviet Union’s Night Witches, all fire and fight. The Winter Duke is like the ice roses that pervade its castle: chilly and perfectly formed, ready to melt at a touch.

Ekata is one of the many middle children in the ducal family of Kylma Above. One of her siblings will be the heir, but she has always known that it would not be her. She would go off to university to study the natural world and be far, far from her murderously squabbling family. The only thing she expected to miss about Kylma Above was its proximity to Kylma Below–the realm below the frozen lake that is the source of the magic harvest, a fascination to Ekata’s keenly curious mind.

And then disaster strikes. Just as her brother is about to choose a spouse, Ekata’s entire family is struck down by an unprecedented–and apparently magical–plague. She is the only one left conscious. She must take the reins of political power–and with them the reins of magical power above the lake’s surface, in the air-breathing human realms–before someone takes them from her.

Someone like her extremely gross foster brother Sigis.

And when you ask, “You and what army?”, Sigis is like, “Oh, this army right here that I brought with me,” and I hate him and would like to throw him off a cliff.

On the other hand, there is Ekata’s newest ally…her temporary bride, Inkar. Inkar is fierce, Inkar is determined, and Inkar is incredibly confused by the culture she’s dealing with here. Basically half of Inkar’s dialog can be paraphrased as “YOU WHAT BUT WHY.” And since she is dealing with a very icy region…look, we get this a lot, okay? So Inkar is very relatable, not for me, but for…basically everyone who visits me. Inkar is how people are.

And then the magic, the magic under the frozen lake, oh, oh that is so…so very right. It fits, it works, it is so much fun but not in a…fluffy ponies on a picnic way. This is magic red in tooth and claw, this is the kind of magic that spawns the kind of duchy we see above it. This is a world with room to improve, and characters fighting to improve it. And themselves. Which is very like We Rule the Night, but also completely different.

Well done, Claire. Highly recommended.
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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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Anything that’s even slightly inspired by Anastasia immediately makes me want to read it. The Winter Duke was no exception. I enjoyed every minute of this. The story was fresh and exciting and I loved all of the twists and turns. It was more politically focused than most fantasies, with a lot of political babble, but I enjoyed it.

The world building was phenomenal. The detail and care that went into Kylma Below and Kylma Above was stunning. It’s a beautiful fantasy world and I’m so glad we got to explore it with Ekata.

The writing was very detailed-orientated and clear. Her writing was easy to follow with just the right amount of descriptiveness. I enjoyed every moment of it.

Ekata was by far my favourite character, she’s smart and cunning and funny. I love how she was written. She has multiple things to deal with in this book and she doesn’t always make the right decisions, but in the end she learns from her mistakes. Her character development was amazing and I loved reading about her journey.

My one complaint is that the romance was a little slow for me, and I wish Ekata had involved Inkar more with her problems. Inkar was a brilliant character and I had hoped to see more of her.

All in all I really enjoyed this book and I definitely recommend it!
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Although I wasn't fully blown away, The Winter Duke is one entertaining read filled to the brim with political intrigue.

The Winter Duke is a great read for those who yearn for political intrigue. From start to finish, it was all about politics and who's trying to kill who, or who's betraying who, or trying to discern who exactly is the enemy and the ally. It was a game of secrets and betrayals and trying to find the right decision.

As for me, although I did like the book, I wasn't too keen on how the story was told. I felt like it dragged on and not many exciting events or action happened (which I would have liked). The story did have some plot twists near the end, but I guess I wanted something grander especially because the synopsis excited me a lot.

I liked the characters enough, but I wasn't too invested in them. Ekata was an okay main character. I could feel her frustration and her fear as she took on the role of the grand duke. I wish she could have done more, but I feel like that's not her personality. Inkar is probably my favorite character in The Winter Duke. She was fierce and brave, and definitely what Ekata needs in her life. If Ekata is ice, Inkar is the fire—they complemented each other really well and I loved that.

I also loved the queer representation in this book and how sexuality is a normal thing in their fictional world. It didn't bring any complication to the plot nor is it a problem in their society. That was a nice thing to see in a YA fantasy novel like this.

(Full review to be posted on March 8, 2020)
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First off I love that this book had a female/female relationship and it was totally accepted. The queer people were just...people. No one batted an eye at this and that just made my heart feel super happy. There was great world building and political intrigue with some likeable characters. I really enjoyed Ekata's wife Inkar! The pacing was a little weird to me but the book was still an enjoyable read! I rate it 3.5 starts because it was too much of a slow burn for my liking.
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"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.
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I have only read Claire's first book before and I will admit that while it wasn't my favorite, I was incredibly intrigued to see what she came up with next. Enter The Winter Duke: a story about a girl who gains an insurmountable amount of power while wielding magic at the same time.

I thought the world building in this book was the best part of it. I love being drawn into worlds and I am always amazed when authors are able to create their own like Claire does in this book. This is a unique blend of two classic fairy tales that I really enjoyed. I love retellings as they are, and this was a unique way to present it. 

I am usually not a fan of political intrigue or relations, but that is what this book is, and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked it! I think that goes to show that even if you are on the edge about a book, you should go for it, because sometimes we find we like the most unexpected of stories. We fall in love with the writing and the character and how we can relate to them.

The magic and wonder of this book is a sure hit to anyone looking for a little magic, a little strength, and a lot of beautiful worldbuilding. Hats off to Claire, who is truly one of the top queens of worldbuilding! I would recommend this book to fans of retellings as well as someone looking for a unique standalone.
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Review will be posted on my blog (, Twitter (@caitsbooks), and Tumblr ( on 3/5. 

Quick Stats:
Overall: 4.5/5 Stars
Characters: 5/5
Setting: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Plot and Themes: 4/5
Awesomeness Factor: 4/5
Review in a Nutshell: The Winter Duke surprised me in so many ways. This book is heavy with court intrigue and betrayal, and will leave you feeling chilled yet thrilled.

// Content Warning: Violence, Death, Assault, War Themes, Murder, Illness //

- Writing & Setting -
Claire Eliza Bartlett’s writing style is the perfect mix of clear, creative, and clever. Her descriptions are immersive and enthralling, but never falling into the trap of being too poetic, giving a good sense of whats going on while adding to the atmosphere. This book was also way funnier than I expected. Don’t get me wrong- this isn’t a comedy- but I didn’t think the main character would be so entertaining while dealing with, basically, the worst week of her life. And the humor never feels out of place despite the darker atmosphere and tone of the book.

Speaking of atmosphere- I loved this setting. Bartlett crafted a very unique world and magic system that I haven’t seen anything like before. Kylma Above is such an interesting country, freezing and unwelcoming, with a ruthless line of succession and absolutely disgusting food. Kylma Below is even more interesting; a mysterious underwater world that allows no visitors besides the Duke Above, and trades in unstable magic pearls.

- Plot -

This book is definitely slower paced, focusing on politics, mystery, and characters. That said, there really is no dull moment. The cabinet meetings are tense, each conversation is high stakes, and when there is action, is it intense. Ekata is thoroughly challenged in this book, in all ways, and the entire time you are on the edge of your seat, dying to find out how she’s going to get out of this whole situation alive (and preferably with the country in one piece as well).

There’s also a side romance plot, but it’s definitely very much a side plot, and very slow-burn. But did I mention it’s f/f?!?! This book has a lot of casual LGBTQ+ representation, where it’s treated as completely normal (ie: the main f/f romance plot, Ekata’s brother seeming to be queer, unisex titles for royalty, and a non-binary character), and there are never any questions or comments about it. It just is, which is absolutely amazing.

- Characters -

Like I mentioned before, this book is very character-focused. Ekata has a lot to deal with in this book and watching her develop as she is forced to handle seemingly insurmountable problems was probably my favorite part. She deals with quite a few moral dilemmas as she is forced to decide who she wants to be as a leader, and what she is willing to do to survive. But everything isn’t miserable all the time for Ekata (just most of the time): she brings a lot of the humor in the book with her comments and quips, and her relationship with her wife is absolutely adorable.

Her wife, Inkar, is just adorable to begin with. She’s a warrior from a southern kingdom, a natural-born leader (unlike Ekata who is the definition of "awkward, but trying"), and not the biggest fan of the frigid Kylma Above. Outside of Ekata and Inkar, there is a very full cast of characters, all of whom whose loyalties are always in question, no matter how much you like (or dislike) them.

- Conclusion -

Pros- Amazing setting, great characters, casual queer rep
Cons- A little slow (it may take a minute to get fully invested, but I swear it’s worth it!)
Overall- 4.5/5 stars.
The Winter Duke is a breathtaking novel, full of intrigue and mystery, that will keep you up at night, desperate to see how it all turns out (trust me, I know).
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Last year, Claire Eliza Bartlett broke out with a unique feminist fantasy about a ragtag group of women pilots fighting for their role in the war, We Rule the Night. Now she is back with an utterly different, but no less charming and special book: The Winter Duke. Weaving together strands of political intrigue, personal growth, family drama, magic and love, Claire creates an immensely readable tale that sucks the reader into its lands of Kylma Above and Kylma Below, and spits them back out wanting more.

The story is excellently written and crafted – if you would like to see for yourself, check out this sample chapter on the NOVL’s site to get a taste of the book. But its true strength lies in its characters. Ekata, a princess who wants nothing more than escaping her family and the constraints of her role, is suddenly forced to confront the challenges of rulership. Inkar, daughter of an enemy ruler, suddenly finds herself married, in a land utterly different from her own. Sigis, the obvious villain, ex-foster brother to Ekata, now desperate for power, tries to marry her despite her best efforts. The rulers and citizens of Kylma Below, whose behaviour is truly a mystery… They, and the remaining cast of The Winter Duke, are portrayed multi-dimensionally, and all come with their set of aims and motivations behind their actions. Especially Ekata and Inkar undergo immense character growth over the course of the story’s progression, and it is beautiful to see how they grow into their own as independent young women.

One of my favourite parts of the book was that sexuality was a topic that was never discussed – when Ekata chose her bride, that was accepted as fact, and while the process and her motivations were questioned, the gender was never a topic of discussion. Despite queer relationships being more and more accepted these days, it is refreshing to read books where they are a matter of fact rather than discussion, where the narrative has moved so far past the need for discussion that things can just be.

Another thing I loved, and which reminded me of another of my favourite YA fantasies (which is far too underhyped!), State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury, is the inclusion of an election in the book. While its not a proper democratic process in this case, the fact that this is something YA novels are addressing is very important to me, and I am glad that it is becoming a thing. Politics and democracy are so crucial to our society and future, and, for someone who learns best through reading about issues, what better way to subtly encourage young people to engage with the matters!
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I was really excited to read this book. The idea of it seemed original, and I'm all for a new fantasy. However, after beginning to read the first chapter, I noticed something off about it.

This book itself is plain boring. I've never said that about a book. I've always found problems with novels, as I have with this one as well. But the most predominant problem with this novel was how utterly bored I was reading it.

I got to Chapter 7 before calling it quits.

For one, the opening chapter failed to have any sort of hook to capture interest. I kept reading solely because I thought I'd missed it, but after going back and rereading that first chapter, I realized I actually didn't. Furthermore, some of the things that happened were plain confusing or unrealistic within the story.

Now, before you say something--no, I didn't just say that things in this Fantasy novel were unrealistic. I said that the occurrences that were meant to emphasize the plot were unrealistic. It felt to me that, if those things had been explained further, they probably would've made more sense. But alas, we can't always get what we want, can we?

Lastly, there were a few parts of the dialogue while reading that were either repetitive or just stupid in general.

Believe me when I said I wanted to like this novel. I really did. I've heard nothing but good things about this author and her writing, but unfortunately, those things were not exactly true to me while reading. For that, I rate this book 1 star.
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THE WINTER DUKE is a thrilling YA fantasy that takes place in a world where magic is controlled by a single dukedom. Ekata is a middle daughter of the Grand Duke who controls the flow of magic through the world Above. He is the only one who can travel Below, where another realm of creatures live. Ekata is a budding scientist, and as such, the world Below has always intrigued her. However, knowing this is not possible to explore, she has set her sights on getting away from her family and their selfish cruelty and going to study in the South.

Everything changes when her father and brother (heir apparent) but heads during the bride show. Ekata does not flee when she supposes she should have, and now her whole family has fallen under a curse, where they are seemingly drowning in their slumber. As the only one left awake, she must assume the position of Grand Duke. Trying to avoid a cruel man who wants to marry her to assume her power, she ties herself to one of the brides there for her brother and launches into the coronation challenges to keep the power for her family.

This book is absolutely fascinating, and I love the world-building around this dukedom. Magic also has a powerful, dangerous, and rich quality that adds some flair to this unique icy world- mirroring many of the people who live in it. My favorite part of the book is the LGBT romance and characters who are gender fluid, plus men and women coming for the bride show with this all seeming totally normal. There's a nice side plot of romance between Ekata and another woman. This book is unapologetically LGBT forward and feminist in a way that I truly enjoyed. I could easily get lost in this fascinating world.

There is mystery, danger, romance, plots, and challenges to keep interest throughout this book. I'd say there's a little something for everyone here, and I would totally be up for sequels within this wonderfully dangerous place. The writing is gripping, easily pulling the reader to get lost in this other place. I would highly recommend for lovers of engrossing and unique YA fantasy.

Please note that I received an ARC. All opinions are my own.
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