The winter duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
Ekata is just days away from leaving her home. Days away from freedom and the life she has looked forward to for years. An unimportant and forgotten middle child in a dangerous and vicious family, Ekata just wants to survive long enough to flee south and spend her days surrounded by those who value knowledge and peace. However, someone or something has other plans. Suddenly, and very much against her will, Ekata becomes the Duke of Kylma Above, tasked with ruling the kingdom, preventing an invasion, curtailing treason and discovering a cure for the magical illness which has incapacitated the rest of her family. And then there is Inkar, the girl who should have been her brother’s bride…
The Winter Duke is a satisfactory young adult fantasy offering some unique ideas and plot points. Bartlett has created a distinctive and atmospheric world. While most of the book is spent in the ducal castle, the reader gains a real sense of the cold and harsh environment of Kylma Above. The inclusion of magical elements and creatures and a complex familial and societal structure is also interesting.
Where the novel fails however is in its characters. Main protagonists do not necessarily have to be likeable for readers to be able to enjoy a book. Bartlett has clearly tried to style Ekata as a character relatable to her audience, with flaws and insecurities like those suffered by most teenagers. However, she is almost comically unconfident, reckless, credulous and petulant. As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to root for a character this exasperating. Moreover, secondary protagonists, including Ekata’s love interest and her most dangerous enemy, are more caricature than character. The book’s villain, for example, is brash, vulgar and innately ‘evil’, without much explanation or reasoning to explain why.
Overall, The Winter Duke is a solid young adult fantasy novel, which will no doubt please some readers of the genre, but it is not without its flaws.
Themes: Fantasy, Romance, Family, Identity, Magic, Magical Creatures, LGBTQIA+.