Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
Publication date: 21 January 2021
Genre: YA fantasy
Page count: 528 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free for Winterkeep, but may contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. Please beware!
Welcome to my stop on the Winterkeep blog tour! The latest installment in the Realm of the Graceling series comes out today – eight years after the publication of Bitterblue — and our favourite gang of royals and rebels finds themselves in trouble in a fantastical land across the sea.
Something is rotten in the heart of Winterkeep…
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.
There is a lot to love about Winterkeep! Cashore proves once again that she is a cracking storyteller and wonderful worldbuilder. I’ve always found these to be her strengths — she has the marvelous ability to pull you headfirst into her stories and the pages just keep turning. I love the world of the original books, especially the Dells, so I was a little sad to be leaving them behind in favour of this strange new continent. However, Cashore’s worldbuilding does not disappoint. We get airships! Telepathic foxes! Political intrigue and strife! Storytelling seals! Mythical sea creatures! I absolutely loved the world of Winterkeep and am so keen to learn more in (hopefully) future books.
It took me a little while to get into the story and new characters of this book, however once I reached the halfway point, I could not put Winterkeep down. Much like Bitterblue, it takes some setup for the reader to see what’s going on beneath the surface and really get hooked into the story, but it was ultimately worth the wait. Although the Realm of the Graceling books are very much on the adult end of YA fiction, I really felt like Cashore toes the line between YA and adult in this book — some of the themes she explores are definitely for the older reader. These include:
- Sex positivity and promiscuity
- Birth control
- Climate change and environmental activism
- Parental abuse
- The complexities of friendships and relationships (both romantic and familial)
Throw these in with what you expect from Cashore — PSTD and healing from trauma, menstruation, a woman’s right to chose whether or not to marry, consent, toxic relationships, etc. — and you have one hell of an adult-feeling book!
For me personally, Cashore’s characters don’t stand out quite as much as I’d like, and this is the case in Winterkeep. It took me a very long time to warm to Lovisa, one of our main POV characters, and I’m not quite sure I ever got there with her. I do, however, really enjoy her story arc and her exploration of and questions around her sexuality. Giddon, a secondary character from the previous series most memorable for his epic failure of a marriage proposal to Katsa, is another main POV character in this book, as well as Queen Bitterblue. I didn’t quite have the same connection to these familiar characters as I did before, and they felt quite different in terms of their voice, however I put that down to the eight years between the third and fourth books!
Overall, Winterkeep was a thumping good read! As a recent reader of the series, I’d be so curious to hear what fans of the Realm of the Graceling series think, however I do think you’ll enjoy it if you liked the previous books, despite it having quite a different feel.
Want to pick up a copy of Winterkeep for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):