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Winter of Ice and Iron

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In this gorgeous, dark fantasy in the spirit of Jacqueline Carey, a princess and a duke must protect the people of their nations when a terrible threat leaves everyone in danger.

With the Mad King of Emmer in the north and the vicious King of Pohorir in the east, Kehara Raehema knows her country is in a vulnerable position. She never expected to give up everything she loves to save her people, but when the Mad King’s fury leaves her land in danger, she has no choice but to try any stratagem that might buy time for her people to prepare for war—no matter the personal cost.

Hundreds of miles away, the pitiless Wolf Duke of Pohorir, Innisth Eanete, dreams of breaking his people and his province free of the king he despises. But he has no way to make that happen—until chance unexpectedly leaves Kehara on his doorstep and at his mercy.

Yet in a land where immanent spirits inhabit the earth, political disaster is not the greatest peril one can face. Now, as the year rushes toward the dangerous midwinter, Kehera and Innisth find themselves unwilling allies, and their joined strength is all that stands between the peoples of the Four Kingdoms and utter catastrophe.

561 pages, Hardcover

First published November 21, 2017

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About the author

Rachel Neumeier

46 books484 followers
Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 96 reviews
Profile Image for Katie.
165 reviews
January 2, 2018
Warning: Book contains numerous cases of abuse/rape of men and women.

Ok, so I'm going to begin my review with a disclaimer. NOT a disclaimer to apologize for my opinion (because isn't diverse opinion-sharing the whole point of Goodreads??), but other than the above warning, a disclaimer to explain my history as a Rachel Neumeier fan.
And I've been that for a few years--a fan.

I average reading 400 books a year, have written to authors periodically by snail mail or email, and check blogs (once in a blue moon). When I discovered Neumeier's book, "City in the Lake," in the library a few years ago, I was spellbound...I loved the lyrical fantasy, with its intriguing characters, adventure, and depth. Lately I've been busy with a college degree/graduating/traveling/work, so checking author blogs and reading latest books hasn't been a priority.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I'm such a fan of Neumeier's books/writing voice that despite all of this happening in my life, I check her blog every day, re-read her books at least once a year, and pre-order her books before they come out. This last one’s a huge thing for me--Jonathan Stroud's the only other author I pre-order. I've been burned too many times before, plus--every book is different. It's hard to know what you personally will love until you've read it.

Disclaimer over--I'm a fan. You got that part. Moving on.

I hated this book, and it's a really, really sad thing for me to say. But it's my review space and I'm going to be absolutely honest.

I've been waiting for this book for over a year--reading Neumeier's blog posts about it with anticipation, reading fan comments on title options....everything. The page flap sounded so interesting, and the cover? Wow. Gorgeous.

But a few chapters in I realized that the story had more regarding content than was stated. Much more.

First of all--the smaller issues. One is something I've seen before in some of Neumeier's books, but wrote it off to being a personality similarity between all the dreamy, mage-like female characters. This is the lack of heroine/female agency, even when the heroine is billed as a "strong heroine." In "Black Dog" this happened, in "City in the Lake"--marginally--"Pure Magic"--especially--"House of Shadows"--a bit. It's fine when one female heroine is submissive to men or doesn't take charge of her life, but repeatedly? The reason I'm "airing this laundry" about the lack-of-agency problem for me in her other books is that it happened. So. SO. strongly in Winter of Ice and Iron. Kehara is introduced to readers in the book’s flap/summary as a very strong, self-sufficient heroine intent on saving her kingdom.

GOOD! More power to you. Please, go save your kingdom like the woman we all inspire to be.

But readers are first introduced to her doing embroidery while her father and brother are off fighting in a major battle. Okkkkk....I think even if you love embroidery (which I admittedly don't) you'd have to admit that if you're going to have just one female lead—and one marked as a strong, independent female lead—you shouldn't introduce her to readers doing something that was one of the only recourses to women during the decades (centuries) of gender repression.

Not ok.

But I gave this the benefit of the doubt. After all, in previous books, Neumeier has female leads love cooking as their only hobby/major skill (another gender stereotype), but I can look past that.

But what's even stranger is that during the course of the book, Kehara 1) Is not trained to understand high-level strategy, battle tactics, or political concerns (she's supposed to be the heir of a powerful kingdom, so this should've been taught), 2) Is repeatedly captured, and doesn't particularly try to escape ever, and 3) Marries a man who tortures, rapes, and kills men and women, and doesn't show a sufficient amount of righteous anger. And by "doesn't show a sufficient amount" I mean--neither of them.
Added to this, Kehara is told by her new husband (and also her husband's male lover) that he will not ever give up his lover.
And she accepts this.

Pause right here--This just makes me want to WEEP that people reading this may think this kind of relationship is ok. Value yourselves. You deserve loyalty in your dating relationship; you deserve loyalty with your spouse. Love triangles shouldn't happen--your partner should honor and respect you, and treat you as an independent, whole, dignified human being.

As much as I love this author's other works, no one can ever make me think this kind of behavior (the physical abuse constant in the book, explained next) or infidelity is OK, least of all romantic. This happened in "Black Dog" and "Pure Magic" (dominant males with submissive/inexperienced/accepting-of-roles females) and I accepted that. Barely. Because black dogs were a fascinating premise. But enough. I'm not accepting it in books anymore since it contradicts my values on gender equality, romance, and human dignity.

I'm going to ignore my personal reader issues with the length of the book (way too many things that needed explained that only muddled the world-building--gods and wall of storms and Immanents and Immanent connections and storm dragons and...), and skip to what I really, especially rated this book one-star for.

This issue is: the combination of rape/other abuse with magic. I mentioned this in the first line because this is something that only one person to date has shared on Goodreads at all (never mind the marketing campaign or major newspapers--they just say "gritty"), and really should be a warning if this is something that triggers people. Um, you know what? It should, damn it. It should trigger people.

This abuse is focused on mainly as men dominating through sex--and especially dominating, abusive sex--with other men. Although females are mentioned as being raped or worth "less than" throughout. I'm a female, and am very, very sad and angry when I read books glorifying women being abused in sexual relationships. And honestly, this happens a lot more in fiction than reading about men being sexually abused. So maybe the author was going for a different focus? But regardless of the gender, it's not new or fresh or interesting--it's terrible.

I'm not an idiot, and I know when something is being glorified in a book. A main key is the author/narrator's view or the "moral compass" character's POV. This subtly tells the reader what to think, or at least, what the moral guidelines are in the book's world. Reading a totally normal conversation between the female fiancé of the main male lead and his male lover (who volunteered as a young man to escape an abusive, possibly sexual, job with an old man, and is slept with violently for seven years to appease the main male lead's brutal sexual tendencies) is strange and disturbing enough. But reading about the male lover being glad to be of service (and fighting jealousy) and the main heroine contentedly accepting advice that her marriage night will be memorable....
No. Just...wrong. This is not acceptable, book world or real world.

In "Winter of Ice and Iron," not only are women raped, homosexual/bisexual relationships + rape in homosexual relationships are portrayed as the norm. I don't agree with these lifestyle choices, and I especially don't want any person, character or not, whether male or female, young or old, friend or stranger, abused. And it's adding insult to injury to brush this horror off as normal and accepted, even in a book. Just by what, the victim saying it's ok and the author saying who the hero is? Is this supposed to put a positive spin on things? Or make "gritty" an edifying read?

I understand if the book’s world has violence and sexuality...but it was focused on in almost every chapter. It was normalized. It was explained as being connected to magic, so...oh well. Guess you just gotta do it to do your magic. Right?


I mean, it'd be laughable in parts if it wasn't so terrible. I'd be reading a scene where Innisth is talking to someone and then just, feels the need to assert very physical dominance. So he reaches over and touches the stranger's neck and eyes him up. Cue sultry voice.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but who does this in an average political situation? How about when you're talking to a new ally? Or your new solider in your guard? Or someone training you/the person you're trying to protect? It got to the point where it was like:

"Oh look, Innisth just became a new leader. I bet HE'S going to be a better ruler than his controlling fath--" *Innisth abruptly changes from talking about a new captain of the guard to asking for young men to fill the role of sex slave*

"Oh, is Innisth talking to a stranger? Oh nice, he's getting so well-adjusted and friendl--" *Innisth can't handle being trained to fight with swords by a peer--must try to sexually dominate male*

"Oh, ok--Innisth is telling his new wife's guard that he should've guarded her better. Ok, well, that's innocent enou--" *Innisth caresses guard's face and demands he agree to do anything he commands while gauging how attractive he is*

"Fine--this is definitely a situation where Innisth can think with his head and/or be a decent human being. He's talking to his new potential ally in a very political, dire situation. He wouldn't--" *Innisth threatens/implies violently forcing the man into every--every--type of submission*

And the worst part was that the "moment of change" in the novel--the one that turns the beast into the not-so-beast--was when Innisth promises not to torture and rape men and women anymore. *jaw drops* This shouldn't be the end goal of character resolution!

Of course, sexual promiscuity and infidelity during the marriage with his personal male servant...is ok and healthy for everyone involved...? Apparently so.

And the reason for the glorification and constant focus on SEX and RAPE and TORTURE?
Magic. This is not a solid, reasonable, interesting, or frankly, mature excuse to do any of these. I’ve read books where magic is tied with animal traits and human characteristics, and wasn’t buying the whole “Innisth can rape men and women and think about sex and abuse and murder constantly because he’s bound to a mountain/wolf Spirit.” No. Just...no.

Last I checked, mountains aren’t into abuse, and wolves are incredibly loyal, determined pack members who have strict rules of relationship conduct and again, loyalty to their mates and friends. One of the reasons they're my favorite animals, actually. What they're not is the Harlequin romance parallel for the buff, dominant, controlling, steely-eyed "hero." This was angering, and also honestly--really, really disappointing. I love Neumeier's writing style, and I've seen her create and handle and master depth/character development like few others do. Knowing this made it disappointing for me to have little character depth for the "hero" (many air quotes here) other than the need to follow his violent, sexual spirit controlling him, and the strange development of Kehara (aka, sometimes stubborn, mainly passive). This is very much a Beauty and the Beast story on steroids.

And let me note here (because this is an issue I feel strongly about):
There’s a difference between glorifying sexual slavery and abuse, and showing it as it is to promote social change and compassion for the abused. This book glorified it—I felt far more pity for every. Single. Man. And. Woman. forced into sexual slavery of some kind or level than I did for Innisth. He was definitely not a “poor scarred wolf-life hero...” as he was probably supposed to seem. Rather, I walked away from this book being angry that this kind of borderline "50 Shades" view of sex and romance is glorified, since there are many women, men, and children forced or coerced into submission through unhealthy relationships or human trafficking in our communities and around the world.

Did I want to write this review? No. Especially since I love some of Neumeier's previous works so much. And also? I know the book's been released recently, so this is the time for authors to read reviews. And I'm sorry for that. Not for my views in any way, shape, or form--but that I read this, and these were major problems/concerns.
So for me, I'll still re-read my old Rachel Neumeier favorites and keep following the author....but I definitely won't be buying another book by her without getting it first from the library. The flap was misleading, and the unsavory, offensive, degrading, very-focused-on abuse content overshadowed the standard fantasy, huge world-building premise that "Winter of Ice and Iron" was marketed to be.
1 review
November 24, 2017
(Copying my Amazon review)

This book is going on my nomination list for the Hugo Awards for next year. The elevator pitch for this book would be Wuthering Heights meets Game of Thrones. Although the book's characters deal with some very serious topics, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, the book is fundamentally optimistic. So it's dark, but not "grim dark." Optimistic dark? Is that a thing? Also, it's relatively high fantasy - explicit magic and the strong presence of spirits.

The romance is complicated with strong-willed, but good-hearted, characters. Some of the most emotionally charged scenes happen when the protagonists are at odds because of their good will and good intentions, and it is often not at all clear what the "right" course of action is. The characters make the best calls they can, and sometimes that means sticking a knife in the other character's heart and twisting. One scene really stuck with me in this regard. One of the protagonists was raised by an abusive father, and there is an intense scene where he realizes he is doing something similar to his father despite his best intentions. His visceral reaction, accompanied by a whisper of "I am not my father", trying to convince himself as well as others, is heartbreaking.

The worldbuilding is fascinating. Neumeier reminds me a bit of Dave Duncan in this regard - always coming up with new cosmologies and carefully thinking through the implications for the story. I was impressed at how Neumeier managed to bring me up to speed on the basic cosmology in the first couple of chapters simply by showing the characters living and breathing in the world. Sometimes authors with non-standard cosmologies resort to info-dumps to get that across, and it's nice to see "show, don't tell" done well.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for lady h.
639 reviews181 followers
January 16, 2020
Boy, do I have a lot of feelings about this book! It started out as a solid 4-star for me, and even swung around to a tepid 5-star in some bits, but by the end it had sunk more to a solid 3.

I haven't read a fantasy quite like this in a while; it reads very much like traditional, old-school, Classic Fantasy. If I didn't know better I would have guessed it was published in the late 90s or early 2000s, not in 2017! At its core, it's a story about two people trying to save the world from evil. That's simplifying it a lot, but that's the basic theme. So it's very traditional, very straightforward, and the plot features few twists or turns. It's also a very character-driven fantasy, and therefore moves along very, very slowly, and is far too lengthy, with the pacing plodding along heavily at certain intervals. But let's break it all down.


+ The magic system here is really interesting, though I can't even really call it a magic system, because that's not precisely what it is. Essentially, things called "Immanences" are tied to various lands, and are held to the land through ruling families. These Immanences - which kind of like nature spirits, I guess - help shape and protect the land from various things, including winter dragons, which have come about as a result of the destruction of the southlands, which was a result of one of these Immanences achieving apotheosis and becoming an Unfortunate God. It's a lot to take in, at first, and it's incredibly confusing, and honestly there were still moments of confusion even in the second to last chapter, but overall it's intriguing worldbuilding, though I have qualms with it, but I'll get to that in just a bit.

+ The writing is gorgeous. It's just so, so lovely, and steady, and so very fantasy-like. It's got elegance and beauty and is rich without sinking into purple prose. It's so appropriate for the story and maintains the proper tone throughout.

+ The Wolf Duke - Innisth - is an absolutely fascinating character and is extremely well-written. So often readers will clamor for villainous love interests or unlikable leading men, and we certainly get that with Innisth. I love that he is allowed to maintain his hard, cold personality even after he grows close to Kehera; unlike in other books, love doesn't magically ~transform~ him. He is still essentially the same person: even in the very last page he is frustrating and unyielding and essentially himself. I think the author also does a really superb job of balancing out the various facets of his personality and his background - he's been raised by a terrifying and abusive father and so he's deeply insecure and traumatized but he also exudes menace. But he's not evil, exactly; at his core he's a good person, but in such a way that makes you reconsider what the word "good" even means. It's such good characterization.


+ So, when it comes to the Immanences, I really hated that they shape and influence the people who hold them. And I also hate that because of that, entire family lines had fixed personalities determined by their Immanances. So, Kehera and her family are steady and gentle, while Innisth and his family are savage and cruel. It stinks of ~destiny~ and I really hate tropes like that, because what does it even mean for a character to be resilient or kind if that's just what's written into their bloodline? It makes everything meaningless.

+ So on that note. Innisth's Immanence craves violence and cruelty. One of the things it craves, apparently, is violent rape. This was...very bizarre and unnecessary to me. There are various instances of sexual violence throughout this book related to the world's gender politics (more on that in a minute) and those, while uncomfortable, I understood, because they relate to the setup of the world. But the fact that Innisth was ruled by this rapey Immanent to the point where he threatens people with rape multiple times throughout the course of the novel - and implies that he has raped multiple men and some women in the past - was really, really, really gross. It casts such an unpleasant sheen over this man who is supposed to be, despite his flawed character, a hero. His Immanent has already been characterized as cruel and violent, so why throw in a sexual component, especially since several times the author takes great pains to state that Immanences do not feel things in the way that humans do? And he's such a well-written character that this only takes away from his characterization; I feel like it's encouraging the reader to give him a pat on the back for resisting this Immanences' rapey impulses, and I don't feel great about that.

+ The gender politics of this world are...a little unsteady. This clearly a heavily gendered world where women embroider and men fight battles, but at the same time, primogeniture is not a thing - that is, inheritance of lands/kingdoms goes to the firstborn child, not the firstborn son. And yet Kehera, who is her father's heir, knows nothing about battle or tactics or history. Which makes no sense since we see the need for those with ties to Immanances to ride out into battle. And aside from the few women who rule various provinces, there are no women in any positions of power - no generals, soldiers, or even physicians. I think this needed a lot more clarification. Also, not for nothing, but aside from Kehera, there are no other truly significant female characters in the story, and throughout it feels very much like the Kehera is embodying the Smurfette Principle.

+ I said that Innisth is a great character, but unfortunately, literally every other character is bland and interchangeable, even Kehera, who I could never really get a firm grasp on. She just feels like a whole bunch of personality traits assigned to a character; she's not exactly passive but she just kind of...goes along with things. Compared with Innisth's POV chapters, which were rife with personality, Kehera's were...meh. And talking about "meh" POVs, god, was Kehera's brother Tiro the most boring character I've ever seen. Did he even have a personality aside from caring about history and stories? He was so similar to Kehera too, and his father, which is a side effect of the whole "Immanences affect the personas of entire families" thing, which is terrible. And then the minor characters are either Good or Evil, you know? There's not much room for complexity. And the Good characters are Very Good and Morally Pure and the Evil characters are like that just because.

+ This book is too long. There is literally an entire subplot involving an Evil Lord who wants to rape Innisth's servants that could have been completely excised and it would have made absolutely no difference to the main story. Absolutely. No. Difference. And yet this subplot takes up a major portion of the first third of the book. I can understand that it's there to further characterize Innisth as a Good Guy who makes sacrifices for his people, but I feel like that could have been established through a shorter and more relevant subplot, and one that relied a little less on the threat of violent rape. There's also a lot of meandering and a lot of time spent on travel, especially in Kehera's narrative. I wasn't exactly bored, but by the end I did feel like I'd been reading this for too long and it had begun to drag a bit.

+ There's a weird slavery subplot that's just...glossed over very bizarrely?? At one point Kehera is traveling with captured slaves off to be sold and laments the manners of one of the young girls in this way: "While being sold as a slave was not a very nice thing to have happen, Kehera privately though that Reilliy would do better to take her manners from Geris." Um. Excuse me????? I mean, this whole thing was a minor subplot and Kehera does take great care to make sure that this girl and all her fellow companions were safe and free, it was really tone-deaf and weird, especially given that the author has established that this is a world where sexual abuse is super common, so we know where Reilliy is headed.


+ The relationship between Innisth and Kehera isn't bad per se, it's just that I had different expectations. This book was sold to me as a villain romance, and that's...not especially accurate but that wasn't even my gripe; it was that Kehera was so bland compared with Innisth that I just...didn't really care about their relationship, even though I did find their scenes to be the more captivating portions of the book.

+ The ending was predictable but I also don't see how it could have been done differently. I'm not sure exactly what I wanted, but I just found it kind of "meh" after so much buildup. With this worldbuilding it really had the potential to be more epic but it was just your standard fantasy battle. But again, it wasn't bad exactly, just...meh.

So, overall, mixed and muddled thoughts. I enjoyed reading this but clearly had a ton of issues with it too.
Profile Image for Mitchell.
120 reviews5 followers
March 9, 2018
I previously left a short summary of my experience with this book, but having given it some time to digest, I've decided to talk a bit more about my feelings for giving this such a low rating.

Now, I really like the, say, first 200 pages of this novel. Enough that for a long time I was certain I was going to give this 4 stars. Neumeier had set up a really interesting novel, with two interesting (and one very flawed) protagonists, with a pretty clear conflict. While the magic system of the Immanents was a little confusing at first, it seemed fairly clear once more time was spent defining it. I had criticisms, but generally was enjoying the novel, and it's for this first third that I've given the book 2 stars rather than just 1. However, by the time I was nearly done this (standalone) novel I couldn't ignore the fact that those criticisms hadn't gone anywhere, and many had gotten worse.

First off, let's talk about our two protagonists and how awful they are.

Now, full disclosure, I didn't finish this book entirely. I had maybe 80 pages left before I got fed up and skimmed the next 40 or so, and then I skipped to the end to see what happened. So many of the criticisms I level at these characters and their flaws might be changed by something that happens in the span of 40 pages, but it's nearly 600 pages so I don't think it's unfair to say that's not good enough.

Kehara Raehema is your typical Fantasy princess. She's learned in many homely arts (when we meet her, she's working on, if I'm recalling correctly, embroidery while the men are off fighting a battle) she is naturally an intelligent and clever wit, and has a calming presence about her, but can get feisty when she wants to. Oh, also she has the spirit of a nature god riding in her like the rest of her family, and one day she'll inherit complete control over that god's influence over her kingdom. You know, typical princess things. She's also incredibly loyal to her family, to the point where she's willing to give up her birthright, including previously mentioned nature god, to enter into an unfavourable political marriage with the enemy in the hopes that she'll put an end to war. Though this clashes a bit with how I'm going to criticize Kehara in a moment, I will say that I'm glad Neumeier was willing to pull the trigger on this--one of the only features that separates Kehara from other "princess protagonist" archetypes is that she doesn't try and fight this, she is totally willing to sacrifice, and it's very in keeping with her character.

That said, what the shit Kehara? She is entirely reactive, and passive. Numerous times throughout the novel she thinks to herself "I am no longer going to be a pawn in someone else's game" and I thought to myself "Finally, we're going to see that character arc swing!" but then she'd continue to be a pawn in someone else's game almost immediately. She's frustratingly useless.

It also annoys me, from both a feminist reading and a worldbuilding perspective, that Kehara's powers don't mix with the female roles in this novel. Kehara has access to an Immanent power. She's going to inherit a dominating control over that Power when she becomes Queen. She will be the ruler of her kingdom, expected to both lead her people and wield a greatly mysterious divine power. We meet and hear of a number of women who are in the same position. And yet all of these queens seem like they come out of a mundane medieval Earth. Like, countless times Kehara bemoans the fact she never learned anything about strategy, but why the fuck didn't she? SHE'S GOING TO BE QUEEN WIELDING A GOD ONE DAY. Why, in a world where women regularly wield this power and lead nations with it, are they stuck in gender roles more familiar to the real world? Considering how many times in this novel the day is saved by someone who wields an powerful Immanent rushing to the front of an attack, it stands to reason that she would be expected to go out on the battlefield herself, even if only to watch from afar. So why, when we first meet her, is she at needlework while her father and younger brother are like a kilometre away waging a battle? It feels like lazy worldbuilding.

We also have Innisth Eanete, the Wolf Duke. He also holds an Immanent power and it's much fiercer and more aggressive and violent than the one Kehara holds. This is, often, used to excuse how awful a person Innisth is. He seems like a really good, dark, brooding Mr. Darcy to Kehara's Elizabeth, but then you take a step back and you realize why you're praising him. Like, most of the people he rules over like him because he's a step-up from his father who ruled before him, and from the cruel dukes and such that command the neighbouring lands. But while "he resisted sexually assaulting this rape survivor" may seem like a gold star to the people living in his house, it's not good enough for me to root for him. Regular people don't sexually assault each other, and being able to blame an invisible force of nature for those urges just seems too easy.

And hoo boy is there a lot of sexual assault in this novel. All of it, so far as I can recall, was off page, but a number of characters--male and female--are explicitly taken advantage of by men in power (Two characters who are assaulted by the same men eventually begin a sexual relationship of their own, and while it's explained away as bonding in the face of shared trauma, it strikes me as highly unrealistic that either of these survivors would be ready for that). While Innisth never stoops to penetrating anyone against their will (unless those 40 pages I didn't read are a real doozy of an ending) that doesn't mean what he does isn't an assault. He still uses his power and sexuality to make men and women do as he says, or to make them uncomfortable for his own amusement, or to threaten them. He certainly lays his hands on people, and comes pretty damned close to forcing himself on them. But I guess it's supposed to be okay because his Immanent makes him want it?

Now, don't get me wrong, I could respect Neumeier for trying to write a greatly flawed character, especially one who tries to recognizes the error of their ways and tries to redeem themselves. But this never feels like the path Innisth sets out on. Again, maybe in the last 40 pages he starts to come around, but for 500 pages he's treated like this noble brooding hero. Kehara's role in the novel once the two are united is for her to be this calming force to his heat, and at one point she is explicitly told by a different character not to be angry with Innisth because it will hurt his feelings. Again, this is a man who sexually assaults people, tortures and murders others, but she sees his inner beauty so he's just misunderstood. A character that is deeply flawed and interesting for the first third or so eventually proves to be one note, and irredeemable.

Now for more minor complaints.

You've probably noticed, if only by looking at the plot blurb, that the names are something fierce. I can respect if Neumeier was going for a specific naming convention, but it was just too much to keep track of. The names put up a barrier between me and the characters and made it difficult to connect with most of them. I can't pronounce Innisth's name, and I only realized while writing this review that I've been reading Kehara's name as Kehera. The Immanents themselves have long names, short names, their names tie in to the last names, and are used for location names, making it even harder to keep track of what is what. Then there's just such a cumbersome cast of characters, some of whom get very similar names, that it all just becomes a big mess.

The Magic is also confusing and poorly defined, and seems to just have powers for the sake of powers. It seems to establish pretty early and effectively that a king/queen's connection to the land gives them influence over that land, and that connection varies with their power. Sure. But then Innisth is able to psychically communicate with wolves? And the people that die in his land come back as wolves? And also he can divert avalanches, an ability that never gets applied to warfare? It's poorly defined, and often felt like it was made up on the spot to solve problems or create complications.

There's also a lot of exposition. A lot. Many chapters, especially at the beginning, open with big infodumps to define the world and take forever to actually get to a scene, making the opening rather plodding. Considering this is a standalone novel, a lot of that information feels unnecessary. Much of it also only becomes relevant towards the end of the book, with some of it never seeming to come into play at all. This book could have been shorter. Much shorter.

Finally, the cover. It's a really nice cover. It's stark and evocative, and gets across, I think, the tone of the novel quite well. But Saga Press chose to make the cover shiny, which diminishes that artwork somewhat. It was a silly choice on their part. I'm not knocking points for it, I was just disappointed when I first saw the physical book and realized the cover wasn't as nice as the screen version. Also there's a mountain painted on the back cover that catches the painted light in such a way that I always think I've creased the back cover, and I get this brief panic (again, not Neumeier's fault, and I'm not taking away from the book itself, just a funny minor annoyance).

There were redeeming qualities about this book, but I think it desperately needed an edit, and a few more beta readers maybe saying "Hey, this guy is a huge creep and your female lead is a stereotype" before the book was actually ready.
Profile Image for lex.
246 reviews135 followers
February 9, 2020
ahh, i haven't read a book like this in so long.

winter of ice and iron is exactly the kind of book, and the kind of fantasy, that i adore. slow, quiet, character-driven, and political. it won't be for everyone, just for those reasons. but it was written perfectly, exactly, for me.

the worldbuilding is fantastic: full, intriguing, and completely different. as is the plot, and the writing, wow, it was extremely elegant and gorgeous. i want to write like neumeier. but where this book shines is its characters. innisth and kehera. god, i love them. these characters are deeply and richly realized, with all their virtues, hopes, pains, desires, and faults. the last of which innisth, especially, has in abundance - but he learns.

there is a lot of struggle in this book: to be good, to be strong, to be independent, to be kind, to be in control, to be willing to sacrifice, to be brave, to be vulnerable. there is a lot of backstory (both personal and historical) that we don't discover in full detail; a lot of work toward happiness and prosperity that happens in the future, about which we don't get to read.

which leads me to my last point. while standalones are increasingly rare in fantasy and i'm so glad to have found one, i wish winter of ice and iron wasn't. i long for more of these characters and their world. i'm going to be thinking about this one, and rereading it, for a while.

(i just wish there was a guide to pronunciation, because oh man, i had to teach myself these names and i have no idea if i pronounced them right at all.)
Profile Image for Joanne.
577 reviews55 followers
April 29, 2018
Skimming through the the other reviews posted, you are either on team "I LOVE THIS BOOK", or team "I DID NOT LIKE IT". Me, I am with the first. This was such a refreshing change from the fantasy books I have read recently.

It was a bit difficult to catch on to the story . There was one reviewer who said "Neumier slowly builds her world without giving anything away..." and I think that is spot on.

If you are not a fan of high fantasy, this book is not for you.

There are only a few in this world who have a connection to the magic. That magic comes from the earth itself-you can master it, or it can master you. Letting the later happen can bring on events that may destroy everything.

The story revolves around Innisth tere' Maer Eanetai , who lives and rules the province of Ensete' and the Princess Kerha irine' Elin Raehema, the daughter and heir of the King of Harivir. Innisth carries the fierce power of Eaneten, while Kerha has mastered the gentler,but still powerful Raehemaieth. Was it the Fortunate Gods, or the Unfortunate Gods that brought these two together?
Whichever it was, the facts are clear: They must work together or all is lost.

I hated for this book to end. Research on Ms. Neumeier(who I have never read before) shows she had never done a series. I can always hope she makes an exception. There is so much more I want to know about this world. The other books on my night stand were quite neglected the last few weeks.

Profile Image for USOM.
2,423 reviews199 followers
November 15, 2017
Take your time with this book. If you do, you will fall in love with the intricate plot and characters. My first desire was to rush it, to try to read as much as you can. But you need the time to savor the events and names (there are intricate names and many have varying names, but just give it time). The book is worth the time if you love fantasy - especially Jacqueline Carey. I am amazed by the detailed plot and this was my most recent read that gave me the epic fantasy vibes in terms of world building, expansive world, and politics.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.
full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for sigaloenta.
489 reviews20 followers
June 6, 2018
Very evocative, traditional-fantasy tale of kingdoms where the land is occupied by "Immanent Powers"-- magical spirits of the land who affect and are affected by the characters of their rulers. Our protagonists are Kehera, a princess who is forced to leave her idyllic home-kingdom as a hostage to the deranged king embarking on a disturbing plan of conquest and destruction of Immanents, only to become aware of a much bigger, much scarier magical threat from the Bad Kingdom to the North, and Innisth, a proud duke of said Bad Kingdom who struggles to be a slightly less terrible lord than the cruel power of his land, his family heritage, and the plans of his king would wish. Innisth and Kehera's paths finally cross, etc. etc. Romance ensues. Quite complicated plotting and intricate political maneuvering for a fairly lightly worldbuilt traditional fantasy.

I don’t quite know what I was expecting with this book, but it wasn’t quite so much emphasis on the Dominating Duke Who Demands Absolute Obedience From His Magic As Well As His People But He Is Also Upright And Honorable And Only Takes Out His Sadistic Inclinations On Bad People (oh gosh am I over angsty conflicted “heroes” who are *forced* to torture people. Why is this still a thing?). Though I have to confess that this character type (minus, in general, the outright "compulsion" to sadism) is a secret favorite of mine in historical/fantasy settings (but why can't we ever have it represented by a woman?). And there were lots of loyalty relationships between Innisth and his various people, and I do very much enjoy that.

Neumeier’s books are always a bit weird in the way that they set up worldbuilding and don’t question it at all: torture? Our dark and brooding hero does it all the time. Slavery? Our heroine thinks that a 10-year-old who has been sold into it needs to get a better attitude (!?!). Sexual assault and coercion? Definitely Bad, but such an unquestioned part of life that the hero is praised for "just" making his subordinates think he is going to abuse them. I appreciate the attempts to give alien mores and values, but the utter lack of engagement with any of the problems raised is nevertheless a bit odd. (The scene that I think was supposed to clinch a demonstration that torture has very little efficacy as a method for obtaining the truth and is really a matter of domination, didn't quite land for me, and the line between the rapes committed by Bad Characters and Innisth's relationships/predatory threatening seemed blurrier than the book wanted to insist upon).

Some will very reasonably find this insupportable; I personally found that Neumeier made the world vivid enough that I could more or less appreciate the characters within the norms laid out for that world (which is, after all, what we are always doing in fantasy novels). And yet, the novel clearly wanted me to genuinely like and admire and feel for the protagonists; I would have been happier if we had been left with more room to feel uncomfortable with them.

Kehera wasn't given nearly as much interest or development as Innisth; it was extremely odd that she was supposed to have been raised as her father's heir, yet was mostly ignorant and helpless in the face of every political and military and metaphysical challenge that came up. It would have been stronger, I think, not to have had her be the heir all along, but to have had her genuinely be a sheltered princess expecting nothing more than a political marriage and now forced to make decisions and take on a burden on behalf of her country and others that she hadn't expected. As it was, she seemed oddly weak and underdeveloped for the person we were told that she was.

The romance I could have taken or left. Let’s be honest: Innisth/Caer, Innisth & Gereth, and Innisth & Ducenniy (and potentially Innisth/Ducenniy -- that's the fanfiction we all want, right?) were the compelling relationships here.

I also would object that we spent an awful lot of time on Innisth's passions, but almost none on Kehera's own desires, whether political, interpersonal, or -- especially relevant in a novel whose shape is fundamentally romance -- sexual.

Furthermore the meta-gender politics were exceedingly conventional in a way that was slightly annoying (Of course the heroine's elemental power is the kind and nurturing one and the hero's is the violent and dominating one), nor was there ever any particular justification for the generally patriarchal cast of the world (but not entirely -- we hear of women in positions of power, even in the kingdom of cruel and brutal lords. )

All that said, I enjoyed this novel tremendously, in spite of myself. The world was loose but immersive, and plot was complex and pretty engaging. I really loved the Immanant Power aspect of the worldbuilding—one thing Neumeier can do that most fantasy authors can't is write long descriptions of stuff happening magically that don’t bore me.

The ending seemed quite abrupt— it could have used another chapter or so actually to show along the debate about how to resolve the new landscape of powers and Innisth really coming to terms with his decision and the aftermath of it.

I decided to go up a star mostly out of spite; although I had some problems with the book, I don't agree with most of the very negative reviews, and I'd like to balance it out a bit.
Profile Image for Katarina.
10 reviews
March 31, 2018
I'm not going to repeat what a lot of people have already said; I disliked the book for a lot of the same reasons. I haven't written one review yet, but just had to get this out since it bothered me so much. One thing that reaaaally bothered me was the light treatment of slavery.

When Kehera joins with the group of slaves being transported from one city to further south where she needs to go, part of the group are several young girls, I think the youngest was 6 years old, and one of the girls is very bitter and angry which irks Kehera. The book says "Reilliy was spiteful and angry. Her parents had sold her, she said, so they would have enough to feed her brothers through the winter. A common enough story, it seemed, for Geris had become a slave in exactly the same way; but where the younger girl had a sunny disposition undimmed by her circumstances, the older seemed to have taken the transaction as a person insult." The very next sentence says, "While being sold as a slave was not a very nice thing to have happen, Kehera privately though that Reilliy would do better to take her manners from Geris."

I was so appalled reading those sentences. "Not a very nice thing to have happen"!!!!!! Words cannot possibly say how much of an understatement that is!!! Since when is SLAVERY a "not very nice thing"??!! They didn't stub their toe, they've had their dignity and freedom forcefully stripped from them. And Kehera is somehow surprised or offended that Reilliy takes it as a personal insult that her PARENTS, the people who are SUPPOSED to protect her SOLD her like a piece of property, they placed a value on their other children over her. Most of us can't possibly imagine what that could be like, apparently including the author. Can't Kehera show a little bit of decency and humanity and imagine what that might be like, to be betrayed like that??!! And given how the rest of the book is in terms of portrayals of sexual abuse in this world Neumeier created, you know those girls aren't going to spend their lives doing cute embroidery. I'm sorry to inconvenience you, miss uppity princess who has probably never had a hard day in her life. Didn't realize you were on a pleasure cruise and can't be bothered with other people's pain and misery.

I could understand and accept this part of the story a bit better if Kehera had some kind of character development where she realized that her previous view was completely wrong and she has been completely sheltered, and she actually sees how horrendous slavery is and then that's the reason she wants to save them. But that never happens! Even though she spends quite a chunk of time with this group. In my mind, those sentences show Kehera to be extremely shallow and self-centered. And I can understand that in the world of this book, which is similar to Middle Ages Europe, slavery is/was a common enough thing. But if you're going to portray slavery, don't show it as a "not a very nice thing", or try to make light of something so heavy and dehumanizing.
Profile Image for Debbie Gascoyne.
586 reviews23 followers
March 2, 2018
Rachel Neumeier has been writing the best "classic" "high" fantasy that I've read in recent years, and she doesn't disappoint with this novel, which is really, really, good. The GR blurb reads "in the spirit of Jacqueline Carey," I imagine because one character has certain... um ... sexual proclivities that one might associate with Carey, but I think those expectations would disappoint real fans of Carey's and might put others off this book. Yes, there is a dark side to at least one character's sexuality, but that's not what this book is about. What it's about is a fascinating world that, to me, has echoes of Patricia McKillip's Riddle Master trilogy, with its land-rulers and land-heirs. But the lands here are personified, become spirits with needs and to some extent characters of their own, and those who rule over those lands are to some extent subject to those spirit-wills. But it's more complicated than that. It's fascinating, and involving, and all the characters are believable and the protagonists are admirable, and you care about the outcome, which is not predictable. This is so not your average "extruded fantasy product" quest narrative.
Profile Image for Chas Hunt.
44 reviews
December 11, 2017
I read this book in two days. The world building is excellent and the characters were complex and had unique voices. The only thing that fell flat for me was the romantic subplot. There was just a lot of tension building up to it and the result was a little anti-climatic. Having said that, I couldn’t put the book down and there was a lot to love about it.
Profile Image for Paula Zettel.
35 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2020
This book was a beautiful surprise. Firstly, I didn't expect the lush way the story is written, as well as the depth to which the plot and worldbuilding is explored. I'm truly blown away.
It's a very intricate book and at first it demands full attention so the reader can get a grip of everything that's happening, understand the magic and the politics that rule this world and manage to set all the characters apart ( I can't deny it was the hardest task, the names are very difficult to remember). But, once the book becomes impossible to put down it becomes easier as it goes, although the plot does thicken, making it more interesting, setting the stakes higher page after page.
The characters were, in my opinion, the heart of it all. The severity of this world and the puzzling plot would not be as compelling without them. Innisth and Kehera were so easy to root for despite any of their flaws. Innisth is at times woven out of the same qualities that make a villain: brutal, savage and unstoppable. But he isn't cruel and tries to be generous. Kehera, unfortunately, didn't shine as much as him, not until the second half of the book, but once she did it was breathtaking how she took the reins during the most climatic times and persevered in her calmness and thoughtfulness despite having to put herself on the line.
Above all else, I really liked the Immanances (a force that every ruler needs to control) and the way they shaped the story and especially the way the characters interacted through it. It reminds me too much of the force from Star Wars and I won't lie, for the most part I loved the bonding the main characters got from it much like Rey and Kylo Ren did.
I'll be adding this to my favorites because I know I'll be thinking about this book for a long time. Also because FINALLY a book in which the dragons are bloodthirsty and evil.
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book140 followers
February 11, 2018
“Now is the only time we will ever have.”

A better-than-average modern epic fantasy. Enough originality, despite it Medieval European cultural setting, to engage the discerning reader. Written as if for young adult readers, but some inappropriate subject matter.

“We cut our fingers to the bone/ On shards of passing years.”

Well-developed characters. The point-of-view characters had realistic internal dialogue. You cared about several of them. Good storytelling, though the plot--despite several parallel threads--was very linear. Few surprises, good or bad.

“A chance always comes if one holds to hope.”

The reader never doubts the various, increasing manifestations of evil will be thwarted. I didn’t feel the menace which I kept being told about. Even the big climax doesn’t generate much heat. I liked it, I just wish it was even better.

“Always be polite to your enemies. Courtesy leaves you with more options, and besides it disconcerts them.”

Nice cover art by Marc Simmonetti.

“You are the foundation of all my hope, and the tomb of all my fear.”
Profile Image for mo.
198 reviews91 followers
January 14, 2018
this is a tough book for me to review, and not only because the copy i read was a library-loaned ebook version, and thus impossible to highlight or annotate as i read it.

it's tough because in some ways, despite its wall of forbidding high-fantasy jargon and complicated, vowel-choked names, winter of ice and iron was engrossing from the first page. the characters are well-realized, the plot and politics are intriguing, and even the magical elements, if sometimes vague or fuzzy around the edges, felt like they had a history and heft to them underneath it all.


there's a few things that i just gotta quibble about:

kehera. her characterization baffles me a little bit. she was raised as the heir to her kingdom and to the magical power (called an immanence) that it has a symbiotic relationship with. when readers meet her, however, she is embroidering something to pass the time while she and her fellow noble ladies anxiously await news from the war front. that's not terrible, even if it sets a weird impression. was she intended to be a decorative queen, one who only handles matters of policy? what i gathered later in the novel was that male leaders of their immanences totally will be at the war front, and even if they aren't actually on the front lines of battle, will make decisions and command their soldiers while there. the first impression, unfortunately, holds true. several times (well, more than several, really), kehera laments the fact that she has no fucking clue what is going on in any tactical sense during a conflict. maybe that doesn't seem silly to everyone, but to me, it seemed utterly unbelievable. if her father intended her to lead their country after him, why wouldn't he make sure she had at least a general knowledge of military strategies and battle tactics?? especially in the context of anticipating her control over the vitally-important magical power of their realm. all of this was frustrating at best and ridiculous at worst.

regressive gender politics. yeah, yeah, come at me with your "it's fantasy, suck it up" arguments. i don't care. it's 2018, and the last two years have proven how little progress has truly been made in the real world to make the world a more equitable and just place for all marginalized people, including women. i just don't have the patience for fantasy stories that aren't willing to reckon with gender politics in their imagined worlds in a critical (or at least creative) way. this world's ideas of gender are boring, tired, and utterly unoriginal. from the above treatment of kehera to the male protagonist, innisth, and his idea of women as fragile and breakable, to the weird lack of women (in roles other than maids) in the country where most of the novel is set, Ëaneté. (hell, even the immanent powers seem utterly focused on maintaining a dichotomy of dominance and subordination.) i'm not looking for the hackneyed idea of a strong woman as badass, unflappable, and perfect, of course. just some nuance and forethought. it's annoying to find a novel with so much creative energy spent on magic systems yet so little of that energy spent on a genuinely fantastic set of cultures. i guess i'm just looking for love in all the wrong places?

hand-waving of abuse and torture. ok. i feel like i'm opening a can of worms by discussing innisth at all. he and i just didn't click. readers are seemindly expected to empathize/identify with him at least a bit as his perspective is prominently featured throughout the novel. and yeah, i don't have to want to be buddies with a character for me to find them interesting. in fact, i did occasionally find him and his struggles with his immanent power engaging. but he is not nearly ready for an adult relationship with anyone at any point during this novel, even at the end; his thirst for violence hasn't truly disappeared, i doubt, and he still seems to struggle with respecting most people, especially potential rivals. suffice it to say that the novel's perception of innisth and my perception of him diverged drastically.

in the end, my feelings on this novel are still muddled but mostly negative. was it complex? yeah, in some senses. was it an engaging read? yeah, even if half the time i was engaged via frustration. would i recommend it? definitely not.
Profile Image for i_hype_romance.
972 reviews39 followers
August 17, 2020
This book enthralled me from start to finish. It's a feat of complex world-building and riveting characters. Think elements of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.
1,336 reviews15 followers
December 9, 2017
When the Mad King invades, Kehera finds herself a pawn in a struggle between nations and their Immanent Powers. Innisth is a minor lord determined to keep his land under his control, and is searching for the best way to deflect his king's attention so he can be left to rule his lands as he sees fit. The two of them may be the only ones able to stop the world from plunging into chaos during the four days of winter when the Unfortunate Gods are strongest. . .

First, a content warning: although the acts happen offscreen, the book does contain numerous instances of rape (of both men and women), abuse, and Innisth has a homosexual relationship with one of his staff. If I had known this going in, I might have passed on the book, because I really don't like reading stories with rape or abuse, no matter how obliquely they're portrayed.

For me the magic system was the most interesting part of the book. Each country has become so largely because of the Immanent Powers that are tied to the land in that location. The strength of the Immanent determines if it's subordinated to some other or ruling others, which is how the four main countries formed. But it's not like the people know all that much about Immanent Powers and how they work---there's a very strong prohibition against experimenting with them thanks to one major and a couple of minor disasters spawned from bad things the Immanents did when humans got creative. And of course, as much as humans may want more power, if their Immanent decides to ascend to godhood, even the best of them cause disasters and leave the land empty for a time.

On the flip side, it is puzzling that the Powers have no concept of equivalent relationships. It's all about dominance and subordination.

The book did feel a bit long to me. There are a lot of longer descriptive passages, and I wasn't always a fan of when the story would cut away from the main two to show some of what the more minor characters were doing. It felt like it took a long time for Kehera and Innisth to meet. Once they do, Kehera--who was able to go along with the idea of being married off to a maniac on the slim chance she could be rescued, and to keep her country from being destroyed--balks at the idea of a similar sort of alliance with Innisth. Even though she agrees with all of his reasons.

It's not her protest I minded so much as what she did next. In a moment where she totally loses her head, she causes a disaster within Innisth's household. That was one of two moments I really didn't care for in the book. Innisth did need people to stand up to him and challenge him in a nice way (those not trying to take over his country), but that was a cruel--and more importantly, really stupid--way to do it. Now she's really angered the guy that needs to help save her country.

Another thing I really disliked was Innisth telling his new wife, right after they get married, that he has no intention of giving up his homosexual lover. This fits his character. What bothers me is that his wife is totally fine with the fact he's going to be sharing his attentions with someone else. She's started to care for him, and regardless of whether she agrees with his decision or not, I can't believe she wouldn't feel at least a little slighted or rejected or jealous that he's basically told her she won't be allowed his full loyalty.

And I didn't care for how the ending treated Innisth. Tirovay seems to be advocating for himself the exact thing he doesn't want Innisth to do, but it's okay because he's not Innisth.

Anyway, overall it was not a story I would read again. I rate this book Neutral.

See my reviews and more at https://offtheshelfreviews.wordpress....
Profile Image for Taylor Rose.
14 reviews5 followers
December 6, 2017
Going to be honest: the first third of the book was torturous. Tons of ambiguous wording, very little to "see", tons of stuff being "told" to the reader, unclear world building/culture. I would nix probably half the dialogue for the sake of clarity. Around 42% of the way in (according to my Kindle), there was a sudden and abrupt uptick in detail (and, IMO, quality). I enjoyed the last half much more than the first half. Sometimes it felt like certain things were too heavily emphasized, taking away the "surprise" of the plot.
I did have to talk with a linguist friend about potential naming conventions because the abundant diacritic marks were very distracting. I really think it deserved a paragraph of explanation, seeing as the calendar received a whole page at the beginning.
That being said, it was an incredibly unique world to experience and Wolf Duke was a fantastic character. I was ultimately disappointed by how the story ended, but I felt the plot-if sometimes muddled-was pretty solid overall, so I can't fault it for not meeting my personal preferences. I would say it is definitely more for a politically-inclined audience.
Profile Image for dathomira.
199 reviews
February 26, 2018
very little happens in this book until like the last 150 pages (all the Big Events feel like they happen off screen) but i did love it because the strength of the book lies in its characters. i wish, honestly, that the whole book had been inniseth but i understand why not. anyway--i loved it, all 500+ pages of it and read it in a week which is a FEAT to be sure. i may now pick up the keeper of the mountain of memory.
Profile Image for Becca.
1,565 reviews2 followers
January 27, 2018
I liked this, but it's not as beautifully perfect as the Floating Islands was. I think I felt like the main female character lacked agency throughout, and I'm sick of female characters whose only move is to accept their fate because their love is needed to save the day.
Profile Image for idiomatic.
492 reviews16 followers
May 9, 2018
this is def one star higher than it deserves (the female lead is SO lazily underwritten + what r these names) but god, so few books hit the specific lush-fantasy-romance sweet spot so squarely, and that's p much all i ever want to read
Profile Image for Kinley.
547 reviews5 followers
September 23, 2018
Occasional bursts of fierce, beautiful writing could not save this overlong saga from a limp love story and convoluted worldbuilding.

Also, as a minor pet-peeve, I couldn't imagine how any of the names or places would be pronounced and so had a hard time keeping everything straight.
Profile Image for Melissa Hayden.
836 reviews118 followers
February 27, 2018
Rachel takes characters and gracefully glides them into positions they are perfect for, but don't want or think they are right for. There are hard moments they live through that brings out their inner selves, and these are the people they truly are and where they should be.

Profile Image for Erin Smith.
93 reviews54 followers
December 26, 2017
I would definitely classify this as YA. It wasn't bad, just superficial. The concepts were not very developed, the story was incredibly predictable. I did not dislike this book, but for those looking for an in-depth high fantasy setting, with world building and character development I can't recommend it. Perhaps I have just read so many books with similar plots that I found this one to be lazy. The author introduces different types of gods, and entities that will someday become gods that are connected with humans via bloodlines. The seasons can bring luck and wealth if a tie is fortunate, and there is suppose to be a very cultural theme concerning these seasons/months, but they don't really matter, aren't fleshed out, and they seem to be used to try and create suspense instead of relying on the writing to do so. The only parts that I found interesting concerning the rotation of the year was when traditions were mentioned, or superstition. Tiro is a scholar, and an avid historian and the text reminds the reader constantly that he know "all the stories". In the end it feels like a let down that the reader never gets to delve into such a rich history via this character. The author also uses a catastrophic event that happens in distant times in which a wall of wind divides the land and pelts gross dragons out during winter basically. That is it, I had expected that there would be an epic journey into this harsh land, to find survivors, or at least a source of the spawn, but nope, that is left for our imaginations. Just unsatisfying all the way around, but if you are around 10 it could be a good choice, as there are "strongish" women in them, though they still live in a sexist world??IDK maybe the author is waiting for the next book to make an interesting story line, setting, characters, and lore.
Profile Image for Jessy.
411 reviews
March 29, 2018

Confession: I skimmed the last third of the book. This is a looonnngg book. Much too long for what it is, in my opinion. Despite numerous attempts, I could not get into it. The overall narrative felt long-winded and unnecessary. For such a lengthy novel, it felt like nothing really happened. I like the concept, but the execution did not work. Some notes...

- The names. Why? Just, why? Honestly, the over-complicated names turned me off a great deal. I found them heavy, clunky, and too pretentious; they made my brain hurt. In my opinion, this is one of the worst and most outdated stereotypes associated with the fantasy genre. Again, why? I understand if you want the reader to feel like they're in a completely different world - a "fantasy" world - but if the world-building is done right, intelligible namework is far from necessary.

- Protagonists. I had no connection to the two protagonists -- Innisth and Kehera. Innisth was, at least, somewhat interesting with his constant internal conflict. That being said, what a shitbag. I couldn't fully commit to his character arc. Oh, and Kehera. So bland. I cannot forgive a bland heroine. I'll make the same point others have made...If she's the vessel for this awesome power (not to mention, heir to a throne), why wouldn't she have more agency?! Why wouldn't she have been taught strategy, tactics, diplomacy, and - god forbid - a little self-defense? The whole relationship between these two had zero spark. Also, they don't actually meet up until 200 pages in!!!

- Secondary characters. Boring and quite forgettable.

-The "magic" system. It struck me as somewhat all over the place. And, it's possible I missed it, but I don't think an origin story was ever given.

- Sex. This book deals heavily with the sexual assault of both women and men. And, while I'm glad I didn't have to read any scenes that depict such heinous acts*, I'm sad Neumeier didn't take the chance to portray the potentially loving and joyful side of sex between the characters. Innisth and Caer have, maybe, a couple tender moments, but nothing where I could really get a handle on their relationship. And, Innisth and Kehera's wedding night is completely glossed over. I'm not saying I need an explicit play-by-play, but something other than vague hints would have been appreciated.

*I'm very sensitive to those types of scenes (not that others aren't). Medium doesn't matter. I have a hard time exposing myself to those types of scenarios even when fictionalized. So, I find it best for my mental health to avoid this type of trigger.

This was my first Neumeier book. I'll probably give her one more try. Her other book, THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY, is on my tbr shelf, so it'll most likely be that one.
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