• Anna-Roisin Ullman-Smith

Winterkeep, Kristin Cashore

Thirteen years since the first novel Cashore finally returns to the Graceling Realm.

For many of us the wait for this novel has been one based on hope. An understanding that Cashore's third book in the Graceling Realm series was not in any way a close to this universe. We had little to go on over the near ten years since finishing Bitterblue to feed that desire; and yet here we are, Winterkeep. The fourth, long awaited novel.

Maybe because it has been such a long wait; maybe because the prior three books have had time to grow in my mind; Winterkeep managed to excite me enough to buy it as soon as I knew of it's existence, only to disappoint me.

Though I plan to go back and read the first three books again to challenge my feelings about Winterkeep I cannot deny that my initial thoughts while reading this novel were not as good as I had hoped they would be.

The writing seems stagnant. The characters lacking. The plot droll. The main characters I wanted to read from were those so rarely visited upon that I was left with little enjoyment. The final chapters of the book wrapped all the twists up so neatly that the whole book overall suddenly felt pointless for it's struggle. Points about politics were threaded throughout in a fashion that made me roll my eyes. I simply am left with so little positive thoughts towards this novel that it is making me question how highly I looked upon the books which came before it, and that, is a terrible place for an author to land.

The Readers Guide however is not a place for bashing books; if I hated this novel this review would not be here. The excitement which surrounded this release, and the joy for myself at finally having more to a universe which, from 2008 to 2012, I loved with a passion, has aided to my disappointment in its reality. It is only by stepping back from my own feelings, from what I wanted this book to be, that I can truly appreciate it's worth. Though I have little doubt that other first release fans of the Graceling Realm series are also finding themselves let down with this novel, I strongly believe that those just discovering Cashore, and getting to read all four books back-to-back, will enjoy it as much as my younger self did the first three.

I find myself in the strange position of having been within the direct target age group for the first three books and completely out of it for Winterkeep. While I enjoy many books targeted at age groups much lower than my own, I do recognise in Winterkeep, that were I younger, I would probably enjoy it more.

Jumping five years forwards from where we were left off, one of our main characters, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, rebuilding her nation after her father's horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there; Winterkeep; a land filled with incredible animals, including human companions in telepathic foxes, where people fly across the sky in gravity defying airships. Yet when the envoys never return, having drowned under suspicious circumstance, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted friend Giddon. On the way tragedy strikes, with devastating ramifications. Meanwhile in Witerkeep, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she is the key to unlocking everything, but only if she's willing to transcend the person she's been all her life.

The true majesty of Winterkeep comes from the world itself. While the characters, and story arc, leave something wanting, the world in which the Graceling Realm has always existed remains all consuming, fascinating and brilliant. Winterkeep expands on this world with gift after gift of glorious new wonders, furthering our need to know more about this incredible place, and increasing our desire to loose ourselves in it.

While you can feel Cashore reacquainting herself with her own characters, their personalities growing stronger with each chapter, the world thrums with excitement. Cashore's desire to share it's more complex depths with her readers evident from the first page.

New characters and lifestyles further expand upon what we thought we knew about this universe, peeking our interest to learn more and to experience more.

We are left hoping that now she has returned Cashore will continue to open the doors to this world for us, cementing Winterkeep into the series and using it as a stepping stone to greater adventures.

We give Winterkeep Two Stars

ISBN - 978-0-8037-4150-8 Hardback Cover Price - $19.99 USA

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