The Winter King, by CL Wilson

>> Thursday, February 26, 2015

TITLE: The Winter King

PAGES: 613

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Starts a series

An epic new fantasy romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author C. L. Wilson

After three long years of war, starkly handsome Wynter Atrialan will have his vengeance on Summerlea's king by taking one of the man's beautiful, beloved daughters as his bride. But though peace is finally at hand, Wynter's battle with the Ice Heart, the dread power he embraced to avenge his brother's death, rages on.

Khamsin Coruscate, Princess of Summerlea and summoner of Storms, has spent her life exiled to the shadows of her father's palace. Reviled by her father, marriage to Wintercraig's icy king was supposed to be a terrible punishment, but instead offers Kham her first taste of freedom—and her first taste of overwhelming passion.

As fierce, indomitable Wynter weathers even Khamsin's wildest storms, surprising her with a tenderness she never expected, Kham wants more than Wynter's passion—she yearns for his love. But the power of the Ice Heart is growing, dangerous forces are gathering, and a devastating betrayal puts Khamsin and Wynter to the ultimate test.

I loved CL Wilson's Tairen Soul series. It felt big and epic, interesting fantasy with a satisfying romance. Since I finished it I've been keeping an eye out for a new book by this author, and was really excited when I heard she had another series coming out.

Unfortunately, this didn't feel like a book written by the same author. The world-building felt silly and obvious, and the characters infuriated me. I read quite a bit, about half the book (and it's long), but I was so bored I gave up.

The story is that there are two kingdoms, Wintercraig and Summerlea (yes, that's how sophisticated the world-building is). They have been at war for a few years, since the heir of Summerlea stole a bride and priceless treasure from Wynter, the king of Wintercraig, and killed his young brother. The war is now at an end, and Wintercraig has won. Wynter shows up at the palace of Summerlea and lays down his conditions. The King of Summerlea must give him one of his beloved daughters as a bride. If after a year she's not pregnant, she will be sent to "face the mercy of the mountains", and Wynter will take another of the princesses as his bride. Rinse and repeat.

But the king of Summerlea has just the way to get one over Wynter. He has one daughter he hates, because her weather-mage powers killed her mother (the king's adored Queen) during childbirth. Khamsin has been brought up hidden away from the court, so most don't know she exists. So with the use of veils and scents, she'll take the place of her sister, punishing both her and Wynter at the same time.

Wynter is furious when he finds out about the substitution, especially because he'd previously encountered Khamsin in the castle pretending to be a servant, and he'd found himself dangerously attracted to her. But what's done is done, and she must make a life for herself in cold, forbidding Wintercraig, where everyone hates her.

This felt very old-school, particularly Khamsin. Her default setting is feisty, and she's defiant for no reason, in sometimes almost suicidal ways. She will constantly risk a hell of a lot for reasons which felt flimsy, and then just completely fold like a wet tissue as soon as Wynter kisses her. She’s got her weather-mage powers, which are supposed to be considerable, but they are nothing compared to Wynter's. He just brushes any of her efforts aside like not-even-particularly-bothersome gnats. That’s not even considered an issue in the book... as in, this is not something Wilson takes seriously and explores; it’s just presented as the way things are supposed to be and unremarkable. That feels very old-school as well.

I also despised Wynter, and thought he was a misogynistic asshole. I deplored his “peace” conditions. The idea that he'd basically fuck a woman for a year and send her to die if she's not pregnant, and start again with her sister... that just felt beyond the pale. Because of course, it’s not conceivable that Wynter might have fertility issues; it MUST be the woman’s fault. Asshole. I could have just about tolerated this if it had been just a plan made in the heat of battle, something that he realised once he met the real persons involved that he wouldn't be able to take forward. But it’s not. There’s a scene when Khamsin confronts him with the fact that he plans to kill her if she doesn't get pregnant and the vile asshole just says “I must get an heir quickly”. I hated him for that. He KNOWS Khamsin has been mistreated by her father and his court, so he can’t really blame her for the actions of the Summerleans, but he still doesn't give a shit and is happy to terrify her.

And that idiot Khamsin, even knowing this, is still perfectly happy to have hot sex with Wynter whenever he wants. I would have respected her if it had been a conscious, survival decision. Like, make sure your potential murderer sees you as a real person so that he’s less likely to actually kill you. And of course, the more sex they have, the more likely she is to get pregnant and actually survive. But no, it’s simply presented as that her body just can’t resist him and she can’t help but develop feelings for him. The man who’s made a serious-as-a-heart-attack threat to kill her! Ugh!

Turns out the "facing the mercy of the mountains" thing is not quite as bad as it sounds. I -and Khamsin- assumed it meant being sent out to the mountains to die. Turns out villagers will show mercy to people they think deserve it, so it’s not necessarily a death sentence (although it could be!). And Wynter expects to be dead before the end of the year, anyway. But the fact that he feels the way to treat his wife is to instill fear in her made me hate him.

In the end, I just got bored. I just didn't care about these two idiots and the nasty, catty women in court and the judgemental men. I might have pushed on if the book had been shorter, but it was ridiculously and unnecessarily long, and I didn't care to spend that much of my time on it.



Anonymous,  26 February 2015 at 15:46  

Yes! This entire story was extremely old school. I read this one a few months ago and can't even remember most of it except that I agree that Wynter was horrible. I wanted to punch him in the throat most of the time.

The ending also annoyed me. From what I remember, I think the heroine has a justifiable reason for being angry at Wynter but everything somehow gets turned around to where it's her fault. Don't quote me on that though. I just know that I was annoyed with how the climax played out.

Will you read the next one in the series? I'm tempted because the hero has aquaman-ish powers from what I understand. :P So I'm curious.

Rosario 28 February 2015 at 08:18  

I really do wonder if this was just a manuscript Wilson had stuffed in a drawer from before the Tairen Soul series. It's just difficult to understand why she'd go from something innovative and fresh to something as dated as The Winter King.

Anyway, sounds like I did the right thing not pushing on till the end, because Wynter absolutely needed to grovel like crazy!

I'm not sure I will read the next one. I guess it depends on what I see in reviews. The world doesn't really interest me particularly, but if it has a good story (and based on the previous series, I know Wilson can write one), I'll give it a shot. And yeah, aquaman, lol!

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