# of Pages: 511
Time it took me to read: 5 days
# of pages a day to finish in a week: 73
Rating: 4 out of 5
The world is getting bigger. Ever since Queen Bitterblue found out about the two lands, Pikkia and The Dells, over the mountains that form the eastern boundary of her kingdom of Monsea, things have only changed more and more. Across the eastern ocean from The Dells lies yet another continent, full of countries with democratic governments and advanced technology. In the five years since their discovery, all of the lands of Bitterblue’s continent as well as the countries on the continent of Torla have exchanged languages and cultures and lived peacefully.
But when two of Bitterblue’s agents in the country of Winterkeep on Torla end up dead, she finds that it might not have been the accident that it seems to be. Along with her half sister Hava and trusted friend Giddon, Bitterblue knows she has to journey to the land of Winterkeep to get to the bottom of the deaths of her envoys, as well as the possible wars brewing along at least one of her borders.
Things have always been the same for Lovisa Cavenda. First born child in the wealthy and powerful Cavenda family, she has always known what her place would be: study government, choose a political party when she graduates, and follow her family’s expectations.
But things are heating up between the two political parties of Winterkeep, which are the Scholars and the Industrialists. Lovisa’s mother is the president of Winterkeep, and a Scholar, while her father is a shipping magnate, and part of the Industrialist party. When Lovisa learns they will be hosting the queen of Monsea at her home when she visits Winterkeep, she begins to sense that something isn’t right. Winterkeep is full of secrets, and Lovisa can’t trust anyone else to get to the bottom of it.
!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!! I’m so sorry everyone, normally I try to post spoiler-free reviews, but many of my feelings about this book involve spoilers, so if you think you may be interested in reading Winterkeep but haven’t yet, please click away!
I’m going to try to not let this review completely derail into a rant, but it likely will at some point so thanks to anyone who is able to stick with me.
I’ll start by saying, as I’ve covered in other reviews of Graceling books, that Kristin Cashore might be one of the most creative authors in all of YA. She’s created not one, not two, but three completely unique lands with unique magic and unique problems. This book, which takes place primarily in Winterkeep, is no exception. Winterkeep doesn’t have gracelings like the Seven Kingdoms or monsters like The Dells, but the magic of the land comes in the form of two kinds of telepathic creatures who can communicate with people: the blue foxes and the silbercows. The blue foxes are very intelligent and will often choose a human to bond with, when human and fox share a special and closed connection. Silbercows live in the sea and are very friendly with humans, often saving them from drowning in the dangerous ocean. Winterkeep also has a unique government with two political parties rather than a monarchy like the countries on the other continent. Cashore has really gone all out in creating an immersive new world in this story, so A+ on that.
Next, plot and storyline. Cashore really seems to have found her calling in political dramas / mysteries. Ever since Graceling, each book after has had less and less of an action element and more of a spy intrigue feel, which is not normally my cup of tea, but Cashore is such a talented writer that her books are a joy to read no matter what. Winterkeep, like Bitterblue, started out very slow for me, but as the threads became more tangled, the excitement built. I felt that Winterkeep was a bit more on the predictable side than Bitterblue, which didn’t particularly disappoint me, but is something that I wanted to mention. In Bitterblue, there wasn’t really a singular antagonist, and it felt as though any of the characters, even the ones you were supposed to trust, could be working against Bitterblue. But in Winterkeep, it felt pretty clear from the beginning who the antagonists were, though the goals of those antagonists weren’t as predictable. I know it sounds like a pretty boring political intrigue / mystery if it’s predictable, but again, these books are so well written and generally enjoyable to read, I personally don’t feel let down by being able to predict the endings.
And now, onto certainly the most important part of these most recent Graceling books, the characters. Winterkeep was unique because unlike the previous three books, instead of having one main protagonist, there were arguably four: Bitterblue, Lovisa, Giddon, and Ad. Bitterblue’s voice was probably my favorite, because she’s familiar and I recently read her titular book, so I enjoyed getting to be back in her head again. Though Giddon has never had a protagonist role before, he’s been a part of three of the four books, so he felt somewhat familiar as well. At first I wasn’t really a fan of this book trying to endear him to me, because he’s never been a favorite of mine, ever since he was such a big baby when Katsa rejected him in the very first book. But over time I felt myself rooting for Giddon, even if it was a little bit begrudgingly. The character Ad, short for Adventure Fox, is one of the telepathic foxes of Winterkeep, bonded to Lovisa’s mother. Ad is an interesting perspective, pretty human-seeming, which I found kind of odd for an animal. I mean, I think Ad would have not been a particularly successful protagonist had he been so animal-like that he was unrelatable, but I think it was an interesting choice of protagonist.
And finally, Lovisa. She was probably my least favorite protagonist, but that’s just an opinion of mine, not due to anything I think was wrong with the way she was written. She’s sixteen years old, and I find her immensely unlikable for most of the story. I think it’s clear that she’s “the good guy”, so it’s not like she’s morally questionable, in fact she has to deal with all of the hardest hitting moral dilemmas of the story. She’s well written, and clearly on the “right side” so you have to root for her, but I just never felt as engaged when reading her chapters as I did with the other protagonists. She’s objectively interesting and well-written, and I think is probably an accurate reflection of her life experiences, many of which are traumatic, but I just didn’t like her. I think that were Kristin Cashore to write another book more specifically focusing on her, I’d certainly read it and perhaps she’d eventually endear herself to me, but in this story I felt that her arc didn’t particularly matter very much to me.
Alright, I’ve held off long enough, this is going to be my rant section and then I’ll wrap this review up. And this is REALLY where the spoilers hit, so if you ignored my warning above and kept reading, but you actually don’t want spoilers, LAST CHANCE.
The romantic subplot in this book belongs to Bitterblue…and Giddon. Which I could tell was going to be the case like fifteen pages in, and initially I was like NO. Because here’s the deal. There is no evidence that Giddon and Bitterblue really met in Graceling, when Bitterblue was ten and Giddon was eighteen, so I think we can avoid any gross “I’ve had my eye on you since you were ten” vibes. But they became close in Bitterblue, when she was eighteen and he was twenty-six. Now, in this book, Bitterblue is twenty-four and Giddon has just turned thirty-two, which in modern times is a pretty big gap for this age group, but in fantasy isn’t as big of a gap as I’ve seen and been okay with. And Bitterblue is VERY mature for twenty-four, as she’s been a queen for nearly a decade and a half already. But I think where my main problem is is that in Bitterblue, I sensed NO romantic inklings, their relationship gave me more sibling vibes, so I feel as though in Winterkeep this type of connection was just drawn up out of thin air. And while yes, by the end of the book I was rooting for it, it was a bit begrudgingly because I don’t fully feel as though Giddon had earned it because once again, I’m still bitter that he was a big baby in book one. Whew. End rant.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much, it was a worthy addition to the Graceling world. I only ended up taking a star off for personal reasons: it took me a while to get into, I found one or two of the protagonists to be kinda meh, and there wasn’t quite enough action to get me to yell five out of five stars. I certainly hope that Kristin Cashore will write another Graceling book, and that she won’t wait ten years this time.
If you liked Winterkeep, try:
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta
Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
P.S. I’ve had quite a busy few weeks in my personal life, but I’m hoping to get back to posting here regularly again, so thanks a bunch for your patience!