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The Winter Duke



[A quick note: This is a book I won from Hachette over the summer. The cover is GORGEOUS. I have been very excited to read this one. It might just be one of my prettiest books. And i was soooo looking forward to the queer romance aspect. Alas, it just didn’t live up to my anticipation. Bummer.]


Ekata is the duke’s daughter, the only survivor of a magical curse that puts her entire murderous family into a deep sleep. To save Kylma Above, she must take up rule. That includes marrying her brother’s warrior-bride. But Ekata never wanted to rule. She doesn’t know the first thing about it. Her advisers don’t want her there. Neither does anyone else, including her distant cousin, intent on stealing the throne. If he succeeds, she might just lose her life.

Frozen setting. Ice castle on a lake. Mermaids kingdom below. Magic. A great plot twist. A queer romance center stage. Tons of political intrigue. There are so many wonderful concepts in this book!!! However, it lacked character development, showcased too many of the negative characters that I didn’t care for, had a couple of major contradictory plot issues, and didn’t put enough effort into the romance. While I enjoyed this book, it did not WOW me. It was easy to put down. Hard to pick back up. Most of all, I simply struggled to care about the main character. BUT, the ending took me by complete surprise. I appreciated that!


Let’s start with the romance. It DISAPPOINTED me. I was looking forward to a queer romance where the female ruler takes a wife instead of a husband. I haven’t seen that done...maybe at all...in the books I’ve read. I was looking forward to this aspect. Moreover, I wanted this romance to wow me. It did not. In fact, there were very few romantic interactions until close to the end. WTH? Ekata and Inkar spend very little time together for most of the book, have very few scenes together until Ekata finally starts trusting her near the end. I would have preferred more scenes with Ekata. For example, Ekata turning to Inkar for guidance.

Inkar was the only character I liked. She leads an army of 1000 men on horses. BADASS. RIGHT?! She has leadership experience. She smart. Strong. A fighter. WHY THE HELL DIDN’T EKATA TURN TO HER FOR HELP AND ADVICE THROUGHOUT THE STORY? Instead, Ekata spent all this time with a snake-of-a-man, her political advisor, trying to figure out how to keep the throne. The book would have been soooo much better if Ekata had plotted with Inkar instead. That would have given them more time for their budding romance. Romance lovers would REJOICE to read scenes like that. But that didn’t happen. Booooo. Poorly executed romance, in my opinion.

Ekata’s character was a struggle for me. She was not endearing. I didn’t find myself interested in her struggles. There wasn’t much character growth or internal conflict. What was worse, ironically, none of the book characters liked her either, except her personal maid and Inkar (after a time). All the things that made everyone else dislike her seemed to do the same for me. Okay, maybe I’m over reacting. I didn’t dislike her. I merely didn’t like her either. I was just MEH.

The story is almost entirely plot driven. We don’t see much transformation from Ekata until the 75% mark? The book didn’t interest me until that point. After that, it got MUCH better. But for me, a book should be good the whole way through. Instead, the first 50% dragged.

There were some serious plot contradictions. I’m only going to mention the two that stood out the most.

First, Ekata’s parents HATE each other. Yet, they had 15 children? And these children all want to kill each other for the throne. How, may I ask, do two people birth 15 kids into the world if they hate each other? The youngest is 8. Okay, so maybe they only recently started hating each other? But if that’s the case...HOW? Or was her father raping her mother? Because that did not seem like the case AT ALL. So, I ask again: How do two people who love each other enough to have 15 kids suddenly start hating each other? There’s gotta be something deep there? That’s what I was interested in discovering. I kept waiting for some big reveal for why her mother and father suddenly became enemies. Never mentioned! Not once!


Ekata does say something (paraphrasing here) “How my parents managed to have fifteen kids is beyond me.” UHMMM. Yeah girl!?! Me too! Totally beyond me. To me, the 15 kids thing was just merely a convenient plot device thrown in without being very believable. And there are other times this happens with other things.

Like the lineage thing. While I loved the queer romance aspect, why didn’t any of Ekata’s HATERS use the fact that she was marrying another woman against her? If an Avenko must always sit on the throne, or risk the ice castle melting into the lake, the AVenko line would technically END with her. She’s literally giving up her entire life, and going to all this work to keep an Avenko on the throne, just to lose the throne when the line ends with her? This is an old fashioned world. There aren’t any birth implants. Or technology to get her pregnant. So how are you going to get pregnant and continue the line? Are you going to take another consort (never mentioned as being a thing). So that didn’t make sense at all to me. This entire plot hinged on keeping an Avenko on the throne. Ekata was the last one standing. And she’s literally making herself MISERABLE to do a job she DOES NOT WANT in order to keep the family line going. And not a single hater is using her choice in marriage against her. I understand the author’s desire to make a world that is fully inclusive. If that’s the case, the plot needed to CHANGE to accommodate for that. Get rid of the Avenko holding the throne. Or add consorts in. Instead, it just ended up being contradictory.


So I’ve talked about a lot of negatives, but I’d like to end on a positive note. The story was interesting. Ruling family is cursed and only one daughter is left to rule, and hopefully save her family from said curse before they all die from it. And it is very likely that they WILL all die from it. But no one wants her. And she’s got to fight against everyone for a job she never wanted in the first place. I was intrigued. The ending surprised and impressed me and I didn’t see it coming. It really rescued this book for me. But it wasn’t enough to lift it beyond 3 stars. I think for most YA audiences, this will be a very likable book. For people like me, avid readers who like dissecting books, it just didn’t do it for me. MY RATING: 3/5⭐️