My rating: I’d go there again, with some reservations (3/5)
The Winter King is my first read by C.L. Wilson. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, in this case, I got a fantasy romance. Generally, I quite enjoy fantasy romance, as it usually combines my two favourite genres, historical romance and fantasy. For whatever reason, a lot of the fantasy romances that I’ve read are set in an alternate reality that seems to have a historical ambiance. This was the case in The Winter King. And while I did like parts of The Winter King, some things didn’t sit right with me regarding the romance, and it actually felt more like an 80’s romance novel. Let me explain…
Wynter Atrialan is the Winter King and he’s at war with the Summer King. The Summer King’s heir has made off with Wynter’s fiancé and killed his younger brother. Retribution had to be meted out, and to do so Wynter took on the Ice Heart, a magical object that gives him great power, but could also turn him into a villain. To retain his humanity and gain some semblance of peace with his neighbours, he demands that the Summer King provide him with one of his daughters for a bride. If the bride doesn’t produce an heir within the next year, he’ll cast her out and return for the next daughter. But the Summer King has a daughter, Khamsim, that he would more than like be get rid of. The fact that she could die at the hands of Wynter, is just a bonus to the Summer King.
Initially, Wynter’s plan seems rather cold, but readers quickly learn that Wynter doesn’t have more than a year to fend off the Ice Heart, so his first bride is likely to stick. Khamsin is reluctant to be Wynter’s bride, but she’s intrigued by him at the same time, and she’s not completely unhappy to leave the abuse of her father. However, this marriage contract get’s a little sticky when emotions come into play. Once Wynter and Khamsin begin to recognzie that they have feelings for the other, I felt more comfortable with the romance. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if that would be possible.
In order to marry Wynter, Khamsin and her sisters end up having to trick Wynter by disguising Khamsin on her wedding day. In addition to this, someone takes it upon themselves to lace their wine with an aphrodisiac to ensure that the marriage is consummated. And so comes a rather uncomfortable start to a marriage. I didn’t enjoy reading it, and I thought the consummation could be argued as rape. I think you can argue against this, but that’s my personal opinion. I didn’t like the start of the romance, and I doubt you’d be able to convince me otherwise. Even after this less than romantic beginning to their marriage, it still took a long time for me to warm up to the idea of a real relationship between the two. Wynter often uses sex to coerce or redirect Khamsin and again didn’t seem all that romantic to me.
This use of coercion is what makes me think of The Winter King as “retro.” I haven’t read a lot of romances published in the 80s and 90s, I was a bit too young for them at that point, but I have read several and I think it’s interesting how the genre has changed. More often in today’s romances you find a mutual respect developing between the romantic leads, even in historicals when it’s less likely to be realistic for the period. Conversely, in earlier romances that I’ve read, I’ve felt disturbed by the more common theme of someone having power over the other, usually the man. I found this to be the case in The Winter King and it was why I don’t think I ever really connected to the book. And no need to call me out, I am well aware that I’m making a generalization based on my limited reading experience. I don’t think it matters the genre, this idea of manipulation and domination is something I’m always going to shy away from when choosing a romance.
So why did I finish The Winter King is I so obviously had issues with the romance? Well, I did like the world. The idea of kingdoms divided by season and the fairy tale atmosphere really appealed to me. And I am glad that I stuck with the book since the issues that I had about a relationship between the cold and unfeeling Wynter and emotionally started Khamsin did take a turn for the better. I felt that the change should have come sooner, but it did come and there was development between the characters and their understanding of the other. Khamsin and Wynter both started to learn about the other’s past and it helped them overcome some of their resistance to each other. I would have liked to have “seen” more of this development, but I was satisfied with how the author resolved the long-standing political conflict.
Would I read another C.L. Wilson book again? I’m not sure. Like I said, I liked this world and there are several characters that I would like to know more about. But at the same time, this type of alpha male characterization is something that I think will crop again in this series, considering the world, and it simply not one that appeals to me strongly as a romance reader.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
When I was reading The Winter King, Grace Draven’s The Master of Crows immediately came to mind. The hero of this fantasy romance was also cold and dominating; however, what I liked about this one and what I would have liked to have seen in The Winter King, was a strong relationship development between hero and heroine before they took their relationship to a more intimate level. Martise is a spy in Silhara‘s home; she’s his servant. While Silhara was often overbearing, I never felt that he took advantage of Martise as I felt Wynter took advantage of Khamsin.
Another similar read would be Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke. Again it features a rather dominant hero with Rhys, and he at times seemed just as cold as Wynter. Like Wynter, Rhys also crosses the line with her heroine, Mina. Mina is not comfortable with intimacy and Rhys pushes the issue rather than backing off, but, and this is the key part, he realizes what he’s done and he apologizes about it. Wynter kind of has a realization about his treatment of Khamsin, but I never saw an apology.
Hailey Edward’s Aranea Nation series would also be a good choice if you liked The Winter King. The first book was good, but book 2, A Feast of Souls was my favourite and the characters remind me of Wynter and Khamsin the most. A Feast of Souls features an interesting world, and the romance was quite nice. Despite being a terrifying warrior, Vaughn was a complete pile of goo for Mana. I think Wynter should take some notes.