Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore – REVIEW
Four years after Bitterblue left off, a new land has been discovered to the east: Torla; and the closest nation to Monsea is Winterkeep. Winterkeep is a land of miracles, a democratic republic run by people who like each other, where people speak to telepathic sea creatures, adopt telepathic foxes as pets, and fly across the sky in ships attached to balloons.
But when Bitterblue’s envoys to Winterkeep drown under suspicious circumstances, she and Giddon and her half sister, Hava, set off to discover the truth–putting both Bitterblue’s life and Giddon’s heart to the test when Bitterbue is kidnapped. Giddon believes she has drowned, leaving him and Hava to solve the mystery of what’s wrong in Winterkeep.
Lovisa Cavenda is the teenage daughter of a powerful Scholar and Industrialist (the opposing governing parties) with a fire inside her that is always hungry, always just nearly about to make something happen. She is the key to everything, but only if she can figure out what’s going on before anyone else, and only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Orion.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
“How do you manage to be so insulting while giving compliments?”
I requested an ARC of Winterkeep after seeing the stunning cover, not realising it was the fourth book in THE GRACELING REALM series. I did the only thing I could do and ignored my towering TBR pile and binge-read Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue. Each book is able to standalone but reading the previous three books will enrich your experience immeasurably. At the very least, read Bitterblue as the main character features prominently in this book and it will help you understand the richly detailed world-building.
“I am stronger than the way this is making me feel.”
Winterkeep introduces the reader to a new nation (Torla) comprising five countries, all of which have telepathic sea creatures and blue foxes, advanced medicine and schooling, and a thriving Parliament. Every setting in these books has something unique and I adored the magical animals we meet in Winterkeep. Blue Foxes have telepathic abilities and can choose to bond with a human and share thoughts, whilst Silbercows are protectors of the sea and can also telepathically communicate with humans. Adventure Fox was an incredible character and I loved his POV and simple wish for a better life. I hope we see him again in a future book.
“The fox, who considered a disinterest in biting off a human penis to be a mark of intelligence, tried to refocus the conversation.”
The story is told via multiple points of view. Firstly, interspersed throughout the book are chapters from the Keeper of Winterkeep, a mythical sea creature that dwells at the bottom of the ocean. Her journey to understand her story was wonderful and very poignant. Giddon and Bitterblue provide two more POVs and it was a lot of fun to revisit both characters. Giddon in particular has matured dramatically from the arrogant boy that readers met in the first book and the relationship between him and Bitterblue was beautifully handled. Bitterblue was out of the action for a while but her absence was lightened by my favourite POV, Lovisa.
“Here, everything is stuck, spinning in place. Everyone is trapped in some role and no one stops to think about why they’re doing what they do.”
Lovisa is a highly intelligent sixteen-year-old girl who has a very tense relationship with her mother, the President of Winterkeep. She can be thoughtless and spoiled like any child her age, but she has such a depth of character. Her journey to self-love and acceptance is a hard one as a lot of her self-hatred stems from emotional abuse and neglect. Even at her most unlikeable, though, she’s stubborn, brave, and honourable. Her relationship with her three little brothers was heartwarming and I hope they all find some measure of happiness in the future.
“It was interesting, the way humans could decide not to see the truth when it made them too uncomfortable.”
One of the things I noticed when reading these books (the first one from 2008) is how sex positive they are. A lot of the characters embrace their sexuality and there’s a refreshing lack of shaming. The author employs a nuanced exploration, especially through Lovisa who has a troubled relationship with her body and often uses sex as a distraction or a weapon.
Threaded through the book is a gripping tale of political intrigue and deceit, environmentalism and the destruction humans often wreak upon the earth, kidnapping, grief, and toxic ambitions. I was absolutely gripped from the first page and raced through to the end. I hope the author continues with the series as I’d love to revisit all these characters one day.