An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke’s daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.
When Ekata’s brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.
In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love…or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.
Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what’s right in the face of danger.
I remember scrolling through twitter and coming across a soon to be released book and completely falling off my chair when I heard the pitch. A girl inherits a dukedom and her brother’s warrior bride. That’s all I needed to know. Having read the book, I’m even more surprised that there are so many marginalized identities included in this novel, such as nonbinary characters. We are merely humans living in the wealth of these good book times.
We are transported into a cold and icy land, where deep below its surface swim beings of water and scales. Inspired by Sleeping Beauty, everything begins with sleep, a fevered, drowning, silence in the night of a cold metaphorical and physical enemy. The Above, and its royal family, are about to start its choice of their heir’s bride to be. We enter greedy politicians, glammed up in all their jewels and finery to see snobby autocrats and their heirs drown in cold curses. How very lucky for us that the survivor, only survivor, is a gay girl. Ekata, daughter of the Grand Duke, only cares about flirting with girls and her studies. When the curse takes all her choices from her, she becomes the Grand Duke of Above, Kylma. She inherits magic and all the self-absorbed privileges and responsibilities given to her asshat autocratic family. I will toot the horn for her and tell you that we are blessed by gorgeous velvet, globes of diamonds, fur coats, tiaras and red lips to ogle.
She draped me in every diamond and sapphire she’d looted from Mother’s wardrobe. Bracelets around my wrist, earrings at my earrings, a glittering belt. “You’re going to look like a duke,” she promised me as she hung a hexagonal pendant the size of my palm around my neck.
Like any privileged bitch with centuries of fathers selling off their daughters to the highest bidder, her father’s cronies, ministers of cold, of treachery, of trade manipulate and thwart her attempts to avoid his grace, creepy nationalistic sir. And like all great gay glorious gay girls she marries a red lipped German princess, one in line to marry her brother. Another mark on my trope list is their fathers are enemies which is like some sort of gay Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet dream of mine. Inkar is a character you cannot pin down. She defies labels of femininity and masculinity and makes her own identity, fitting her warrior and princess aesthetic with red lipstick, vests, and gorgeous golden axes. She develops a soft yet chaotic relationship with Ekata, slowly burning, from dry wood to deep coal hotness.
“Helpless. Panicked. You were like a doe.”
“I was not.” I laughed incredulously. The sound bounced off the silent buildings to either side.
“You were. And I think it is why you chose me. Because I am the hunter. Good for pursuing does.”
Ekata, with Inkar’s big gun muscular beauteousness, fights for her place as Duke against all the criticism and politics of her father’s patronizing prime minister and creepy cousin. You know that scene in A New Hope where Leia orders all the pilots what exactly will go down when they go up against Darth Vader? All that princess power? That is the beauty of Ekata’s character development. There is Leia level crown on head, game is on, let the man be executed moods here.
As I read, it did not go unnoticed the historic parallels to this novel and Russia’s history between Alexander I of Russia and the Treaty of Gullistan, a peace treaty between Imperial Russia and historical Persia. The setting is cold, northern, and frozen. Complete Russian inspirations, from the clothes to the politics. This treaty confirmed modern day Azerbaijan, Daghestan and Eastern Georgia into the Russian empire. Russia, at this time, itched to expand its colonial supremacy over those it perceived as less than human, whom they committed many atrocities upon. Persia, unfortunately, got cornered and had no choice but to sign the treaty, giving up possession of lands, military rights, free trade agreements, and taxes to Russia. To this day, they see this moment in history with shame.
The merpeople of Below are much like the creatures of the Black Lake at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novels. The aesthetics of underwater is exactly what I remembered when reading and watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As Grand Duke of the Above, Ekata and the Duke of Below have a trade agreement, a responsibility to one another. Ekata’s father and the Duke of Below trade in magic and iron. This agreement is not unsimiliar to the Treaty of Gullistan, where the relationship is faught and on shaky ground. The merpeople do not fit into stereotypes of marginalized groups, but the representative similarities are apparent when the Duke of Below says:
“We are not interesting and exotic things to study. We are our own people, and we have our own needs.”
Ekata transforms and develops from wanting to survive to acknowledging her family’s power is rotten. That is honestly refreshing. I want to see heroines coming to that ‘Thor looking up at the mural of his asshole father colonizing with his evil sister’ type of moment. I want ‘fuck we’re assholes let’s all tear it down’ with an order of feminist crown and a revolution to go with it.
Read a girl go from chaotic good to chaotic badness in a single book. Pick up this fresh beautiful feminist fast paced book.