Dear C. L. Wilson:
When I first starting reading the Lord of the Fading Land series in 2007, it was one of my first realizations that romance and epic high fantasy could be blended together. While the series presented the fated mate concept as part of the root of the worldbuilding, it was treated in very interesting ways. The fated mate bond could be used to keep bonded pairs alive and tormented or it could lead to the death when the bonded pair was separated. The series made me take a deeper look at a well worn trope and thereby elevated the series above its sisters in the subgenre.
When The Winter King was announced, I trembled with excitement. All of this is to say that perhaps my expectations were simply too high. The Winter King is a readable fantasy romance but at moments it was unbearably twee and took too many safe paths to arrive at the rather lackluster conclusion.
The naming convention in this fantasy series is indicative of the worldbuilding–it’s serviceable but not very original. Wynter Atrialan of Wintercraig is the kin of the Northern kingdom. His brother is named Garrick. Where’s the “winter” in Garrick?
On the flip side is the Summerlea king, Verdan. The Summerlea princesses are named “Summer” “Autumn” and “Spring” and then there’s the one sister, hidden away. She’s named “Storm” because of her uneven control over weather like elements but her real name is Khamsin and that is what she is called despite everyone else being called by their nicknames. I.e., why isn’t she called Storm other than the most obvious reason to show how different she is and what an outcast she is.
The theme of Winter King is sweet…only an act of true love with thaw a frozen heart…which is a great concept but it’s repeated continuously throughout the book. We know how the book has to end then and it does end in a predictable fashion.
The suspense of the story is that Wynter made a bargain with an evil spirit to gain power to avenge himself against the Summerleas. Prince Falcon killed Wyn’s brother and stole Wyn’s wife away. The Ice Heart that imbues Wynter with power is overtaking him and without a thaw, he will die. He demands one of the Summerlea princess’s hand in marriage with the intent of begetting a child with her.
King Verdan will not spare one of his “seasons” but he hates his fourth daughter and willingly sacrifices her. Of course, he does not tell Wynter because Verdan hates his daughter and therefore believes wrongly that Wynter will hate her as well.
The nice thing is that Khamsin’s sisters don’t hate her and try to arrange things so that her marriage to Wynter is somewhat pleasant. But Khamsin is not well received by the Wintercraig soldiers or their people.
Parts of the book felt dated to me such as the trickery, use of aphrodisiacs, Khamsin as the outcast. While it was a pleasant read, I never felt like anyone was in jeopardy or that I should be worried about the outcome. Now, I know it’s a romance so the outcome is always going to be a happy one, but I didn’t once think to myself ‘how will they get out of this?’ The final battle scene is over the top with nearly everything imaginable thrown at the wall.
The writing is good, the characterizations are believable. I appreciated the thoughtfulness in the worldbuilding even if some of it felt common to me. I wanted to like this book and as I closed the novel I wondered if my discontent really sprung from missed expectations more than anything which is a reader problem; not a book problem. My grade is reflective of my own interaction with the book and I’m giving it a C.