Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

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Fans of the Graceling series (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) will welcome the long awaited return of another book in the Graceling Realm. Winterkeep is a land of strange beings. A huge creature  with twelve tenacles known as The Keeper lives in the depths of the ocean, telepathic silbercows frolic in the waters while blue foxes bond with humans and can hear their thoughts and talk to them. When two of Bitterblue’s advisors disappear and Bitterblue is left with information that Winterkeep’s elite have been cheating her kingdom of the money they should have paid for a precious mineral, she sets off with Giddon and her half sister Hava, as well as a delegation of advisors, to find out what is happening. However, she is swept off her boat and kidnapped. Meanwhile Lovisa Cavenda is a young student who is acutely curious about what has been stored in the attic and is determined to find out what is going on with her parents, powerful members of the Government.

Cashore’s characters are stunning. Giddon’s grief when he believes Bitterblue has drowned is touching, and Bitterblue proves that she has resilience and stamina under the most trying of conditions. But it is Lovisa, that 16-year-old girl, who faces the most difficult trials and who has the reader feeling so sorry for her plight. Then the blue fox, Adventure, is an amazing character as he races through secret tunnels trying to protect Lovisa, and he too is faced with the most difficult of ethical decisions. All the minor characters are fully described and feel real. There are many twists and turns and the reader is left wondering who they can trust and feeling appalled at the treatment that Lovisa’s mother deals out to her and her three little brothers.

The world building is stunning. Winterkeep is a strange alluring place, with air ships attached to balloons, Industrialists and Scholars making up the Government and political intrigue abounding. Lovisa’s cynical take on the government – that everyone is just out to make money regardless of how it affects the country – seems to have some validity too, while environmental issues are also brought up.

This is unique fantasy, peopled with strange telepathic creatures and a fast-moving plot that makes it very difficult to put down. I now want to go back and re-read the other books in the series.

Themes: Fantasy, Romance, Good and evil, Power, Corruption, Ethics.

Pat Pledger