(5/5⭐️) “There cannot be night without day, both have purpose. Both are essential in nature. And sometimes the moon and the sun share the same sky.”—Jeanine Croft
In a world of light and dark, black and white, one woman must learn to embrace gray. Emma Rose accompanies her sister Milli to London, determined to remain a wallflower. She isn’t an arm ornament, and has no intention of marriage. Love is best left to gothic adventure novels. All that changes when she meets the mysterious Lord Winterly. He invites Emma and Milli to his gothic castle in the country. When Milli is attacked by a creature of myth and legend, Emma makes a deal with Lord Winterly. She exchanges her life for the safety of Milli’s. While Milli is whisked away to safety, Emma remains in Winterthurse, piecing together its mysteries. Her gothic novels never prepared her for what she must face: the battle for her heart. She is drawn to Lord Winterly more than she cares to admit. Dark calls to dark. And Emma soon finds that Winterly’s darkness is the most beautiful call of all.
Gothic vampire meets Victorian Era London in this Jane Austen style of prose where nothing is simply black or white, but somewhere in between. The pages of Winterly are dripping with light and dark analogies as Emma finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew. From the start, we see a woman eager to pass judgement upon the world, and especially upon her younger sister. We see a woman who believes life can only be good or evil. How wrong she is! The story comes full circle. We see that the very demon Emma was determined to scorn is the same demon she learns to love.
Seductive, delicious, romantic, are words that come to mind when considering Emma and Winterly’s story. Jeanine Croft showed us true creativity by bringing in biblical theology to explain Lord Winterly’s fall from heaven, his love for Cleopatra, and his struggles ever since. She offered a new and creative take on vampires. She took a popular trope and infused it with historical events that made it feel real.
Winterly is both plot and character driven. Emma has an obvious character arc. Quick to judge, she soon discovers that the world is not easily categorized. Things are not always good or bad. They can fall somewhere in between. Neither is she perfect. She makes mistakes and struggles with her feelings and emotions. She knows what she wants, yet, she chastises herself for wanting it, only because she judges herself to be wrong for it. But is following ones heart really so bad? It takes a little help from her cousin Mary to see this:
“I do not believe that love can be wasted. A heart must be freely given, even if there is no hope of reciprocity.”
The plot is driven most heavily by the Di Grigori sisters, witches determined to eliminate Lord Winterly. At the beginning of the story, we are led to believe they have Emma’s best interests at heart. They are the ones who help Emma understand Lord Winterly’s secrets. But as the story progresses, it is clear that they used Emma to get close to him. They use their magic to get into Emma’s mind and poison her to Lord Winterly, brainwashing her to kill him. As villains in the story, I developed a strong dislike for them. They had clear motives, and as the story progressed, it was evident that Emma and Milli mattered not.
All of the characters were unique, fleshed out with a depth that brought them to life on the page. I loved how Emma and Milli were opposites of each other. Their sisterhood bond was believable and sweet. Even though they argued a lot, even though they kept different views of the world, their love trumped their differences. Emma played the older protective sister role well, while Milli played the carefree younger sister. I found myself laughing at their conversations and dialogue. It was a joy to read their interactions.
Winterly and his sister Victoria were also unique. Victoria carried an air of mystery about her. Her fascination towards Milli was intriguing and I hope to see more of Victoria and Milli in the next installment. And then there were the many other characters in Winterly’s inner circle. While we didn’t see much of them, I look forward to learning more about them in the next installment.
Jeanine Croft’s world building was curious and enticing, laced with gothic inspiration and riddled with ties to familiar historical stories like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Highlighting Winterly’s fall from heaven, the role he played in Cleopatra’s death, and his ties to demonology made her world believable. It was an adventurous exploration.
Vampire stories are too often repeats of the same—not so for Winterly. To find one filled with rich analogies, themes beyond good and evil, and historical prose, is a breath of fresh air. How often do we see vampires as they were in the Victorian Era? Winterly feels like a story written by Austen herself. It’s sure to be a favorite for all historical romance lovers.