Winter Queen

Winter Queen

Today’s review is a bit of a bonus. I’m taking part in a book tour for this novel’s sequel in a couple of weeks’ time and originally planned on reviewing the two books together. However, as I do have quite a lot to say about this story, I figured it would be easier on the eyes to split the review in half. Please come back on 17th June if you’d like to read more about this series!

Winter Queen was written by Amber Argyle and forms the first part of the Fairy Queens series. It was first published in 2013 and is followed by the novella Of Fire and Ash (2015) and its true sequel Summer Queen (2015). The third novel in the series has been titled Daughter of Winter, but a release date for this title has not yet been set.

Ilyenna leads a tough life. She is only seventeen and yet has recently been named as clan mistress – the highest ranked woman in the Shyle Clan. The nine Clans have always been firm allies, united against the shared threat of the Raiders, however the Tyran Clan have just broken this peace agreement by savagely attacking the Shyle’s neighbours – the Argon Clan.

As Ilyenna’s people rush to the Argon’s aid, they find themselves drawn into a brutal Civil War which quickly brings the wrath of the Tyran’s down upon them. As her village is raided, Ilyenna manages to kill the Tyran heir before his younger brother strikes her a fatal blow. As she lies dying, the winter fairies come to her and offer her their aid. They can save her life but in return they want for her to become their Queen.

Although she accepts their help, Ilyenna finds that she can’t accept the high price – the loss of her family and humanity – required to become the Winter Queen. Instead, she returns to her village and is quickly taken as a slave by the man who wounded her. Darrien is a cruel man who will stop at nothing to gain her hand in marriage, forcing Ilyenna to make a difficult decision. The Winter Queen would have the power to defeat all of her enemies but can she stand to lose everything that makes her who she is?

First, as is customary for my reviews, a brief warning. Winter Queen is a very difficult read. The book is utterly harrowing, violent and gruesome throughout. I must admit that this came as a surprise. I never imagined that a story about fairies could be so brutal. The structure of the story, with its warring clans and sense that no character was safe, reminded me a lot of the A Song of Ice and Fire series and it was filled with scenes that sensitive readers may find uncomfortable. Torture, violence against women, attempted rape and psychological abuse all occur with this novel (along with a surprising amount of gore). If you’re in any way squeamish, this isn’t the novel for you.

Winter Queen was just one of those novels that draw the reader in. I will admit that I found the opening couple of chapters to be a struggle. Argyle throws the reader headfirst into her world with little by the way of exposition – a world that shares many similarities with Medieval Europe yet is still peppered with the author’s own unique embellishments. While there are a lot of high fantasies out there that share this novel’s aesthetic, it’s the mythology behind this novel that really makes it stand out. Ilyenna subscribes to a deep-seated belief that everything is controlled by the Balance – the idea that the good things measure against the bad in an endless scale. This idea of Balance carries across the whole story, influencing Ilyenna’s actions on the small scale (as she attributes many bad things that happen to mistakes that she makes) and explaining the relationship between the two groups of fairies on the larger scale.

While the fairies did not appear much within the story, they do help to grant Winter Queen a unique edge as they are the only supernatural beings to appear within a novel which otherwise is just an account of a Clan War. Argyle’s description of these races nicely blends whimsy with something a lot darker. The fairy warriors are comprised of different plants and forest animals tied with their season, giving them a cute but also very unique appearance while their Queens embody the full force of nature – a human personification of the weather. The Summer Queen represents life and growth while the Winter Queen is a lot more frightening, comprising of the bitterness of ice and death. I really liked the way in which the fairies were integrated in the plot, especially how the aided and communicated with Ilyenna as it really made this story stand out from other similar novels.

While the novel was slow to start, it rapidly picked up pace once Ilyenna was captured and taken back to Tyran. It is certainly a story that it’s worth sticking with as once her life as a tiam (steward) begins, the novel quickly becomes nail biting stuff. While the Shyle people treat their tiam very well, the Tyrans view them as being nothing more than slaves. I was just so concerned for the safety of some of the secondary characters – Narium, Rone, Metha – that I had to keep reading to see if they were going to be okay. The story’s pace ramps up, moving faster and faster and containing many twists and turns. Argyle certainly kept me guessing – I was never sure how her story would pan out and who would even survive the tale.

Characters in the story were a little varied but it did at least present an incredibly strong female cast. They were all very capable and realistically written. Although the world was officially governed by the men, it was very clear that the women were what kept everything ticking over. They did not involve themselves in mens’ politics but kept the Clans fed and running (and were still trained to defend themselves if the need arose).  My favourite character was Ressa, the clan mistress of the Reisen Clan. Although she didn’t appear until late in the story, she was a powerful maternal figure who was more than able to stand up to aggressive bullies like Darrien.

Ilyenna was an incredibly sympathetic character and I quickly warmed to her as a protagonist. Her struggle in the story is very real and I loved the fact that she never yielded to Darrien, even when he tortured and threatened her. Ilyenna’s internal struggle is also very real. I’m not usually a fan of female characters exclusively being healers in fantasy novels but in Winter Queen it created a nice moral dilemma within the story. To become the Winter Queen would be to embrace the opposite of what Ilyenna has been raised to believe – to accept the fact that she must end life rather than save it. This made her decision all the more difficult, creating many issues for her to overcome as she developed.

However, the male characters were a bit less memorable. Ilyenna’s love interest, Rone, made some unbelievably stupid errors within this story. While I did find their relationship cute in the beginning, I rapidly started to hate Rone in the second act. His bravado and need to protect Ilyenna was very frustrating as she was more than capable of taking care of herself, and towards the end of the story he said some rather unpleasant things to her (for “her own good”). I really wished the Ilyenna would just find herself someone less hot-headed.

Darrien also only existed to be hated. He was a bit of a Joffrey – in the novel purely to do hideous things (particularly to women) in order to make the reader loathe him. And he served this purpose perfectly well. I spend most of the novel wishing him a horribly painful death. Yet I do like my villains to be complex. I like layers, some sense of them having a soul and the idea that they might view themselves to be doing the right thing. There was really none of this in Darrien. He was just a callous monster, interested only gaining power and causing pain to others.

Well, this review is getting a bit long so I’ll wrap up. Winter Queen is a brilliant start to the series. It’s an engrossing story that really draws the reader in and I absolutely fell in love with the heroine. I’m really excited to find out what happens in the sequel, don’t forget to check out its book tour later this month to see what I think of it!

Winter Queen can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. HusbandAndHusband
    May 30, 2015 @ 20:17:03

    I love that lil gator!

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Of Fire and Ash / Summer Queen | Arkham Reviews
  3. Amber Argyle, author
    Jun 17, 2015 @ 17:54:07

    Haha! love the props around the dragon–fighting off snakes. Hilarious!

    Reply

  4. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews

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