Icy Cold Violence and a Fiercely Addictive Tale of Love | Blog Tour, Review, Playlist + Favourite Quotes: The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

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What do you get when you mix an angsty and highly murderous family, an icy setting, a spellbinding romance and an alarming curse? Perfection. An enthralling fantasy that leaves you guessing with the chill of its prose. In other words? The Winter Duke. And a newfound desire to read literally anything that Claire Eliza Bartlett puts out, you know, ever.

The Winter Duke
by Claire Eliza Bartlett

 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3rd 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT, Queer, Magic, Retellings, Romance
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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.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
Rating: ★★★★★      
As always, a copy of this book was provided by the authors in exchange for my honest review. This does not effect my opinion in any way. 

Claire Eliza Bartlett's words felt like the sharp chill of an icicle against my mind. The entire time that I devoted to reading The Winter Duke, I felt decidedly uneasy and yet simultaneous intrigued. Every inch of this book felt as though it were written for me and there's no good way to describe how it was quick to chill me to the bone. As far as YA fantasy goes, this proved my point from the end of last year: 2020 is set to be a stellar year in the genre.

The Winter Duke encompasses everything I love about fantasy. There's this familiarity to it that grips you from the start--the peculiar curse that befalls one family is the starting point for this one. While the story is set within a world of ice and violence, there's something subtly dangerous about it that can just as easily warm your finger tips as it can freeze your brain. (Ugh, did I just make a Heathers musical reference again? Sorry.)

There's this stunning quality to Claire Eliza Bartlett's writing that feels so captivating, I finished this book in one sitting. I literally could not tear my eyes away from its pages and I'm glad for it. You know a story is nothing short of icy brilliance when you never want to look away from. To say that The Winter Duke is hypnotic and magnetic would be an understatement. It is, undeniably, one of those books that has the IT factor.

Although the world building is intense and dreamy, one of the most striking qualities in The Winter Duke is the way in which everything unfolds through the eyes of our main character. Ekata is sympathetic--she is not unlike a chosen one who absolutely does not want to be any part of any destiny, ever. The story begins to turn in the moments after one of her twelve siblings is named heir; soon after, a sleeping sickness/curse hits her family full force, leaving her to reluctantly inherit the throne.

The Winter Duke was destined to be a solid release, but it wouldn't be as enthralling as it was without Ekata. She is the center of the story in a way that makes the story all the more breathless. And every story needs a center.

Her connections with her family are rarely explored beyond mention of how, er, murderous they are towards one another and how desperately she wants to get away from them and what they stand for. (And, admittedly, I'd like to have known a bit more on their line.) Still, the relationship she holds with Aino, a mother-like figure, and Inkar are the true shining stars of The Winter Duke in terms of relationships.

While the story is, at its core, an icy and dangerous adventure, these relationships are where the story gets its warmth from. Aino and Ekata have some complications in their relationships, but their bond is warm and easy to love. And the manner in which Ekata and Inkar fall in love is a sizzling delight from start to finish--I love the tropes used within their connection and am so excited to see a WLW relationship with a happy endgame.

Ultimately, The Winter Duke is impossible to put down and so engrossing you may have to call off school or work to complete it. This is one of the best YA fantasy novels of the year and, perhaps, the best LGBTQ+ based YA fantasy of 2020. Start the year off right with this thrilling tale of love, loss, intrigue and ice. The Winter Duke is pretty much perfection in my eyes.

"And nothing said get out of here like an unstable, bloodthirsty family." This is from the very first page, the very first chapter, and honestly the bleakness and dark humor in a blunt, honest statement sent me. It sets the mood perfectly.

"People were machines, I reminded myself. They were complicated puzzles, but any puzzle could be solved."

"Being a member of my family had often resulted in untimely death. All the same, I wished I hadn't said anything. "I don't follow superstition." I followed facts and rules, and even magic had those." Ekata has a lot of gems in terms of internal and external dialogue, but this is one of my favourites. She says so fairly early on and I think it gives us a good idea of who she is at her core.

"Books make better friends." 

"I didn't want to survive. I wanted to thrive." 

"My father never showed compassion. Compassion makes greedy people reach for more. It makes hard people think you're soft." There are a lot of moments in the story where you see, quite clearly, the differences between Ekata and her family's beliefs but I think this is one of the strongest points and a huge turning point. You see the contrast fully.

"Truth isn't subjective. It's scientific."  
And this seems relevant in almost any medium. 
So, naturally, it is one of my favourite quotes from the story. 

I am a writer and tour guide in Copenhagen, Denmark. Though I originally come from Colorado, I left the US when I was eighteen and I haven’t lived there since.
More permanent stops on my travels have included Switzerland, Wales and Denmark. The arrival of a Danish husband has somewhat cemented my living situation, but I get my travel in smaller doses these days.
I like to write fantasy, mostly, though I dabble in soft sci-fi. My short stories are more adult, my novels more YA.
I’ve studied history, archaeology, and writing. I like to take my inspiration from historical events, and the more unknown and inspiring the event, the better.
I am represented by Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary.
To keep up with what strange things I’m researching and writing, you can sign up for my newsletter here. I send out a short newsletter once a month.

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