This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
13.10.20 / Fantasy / Titan Books / Hardback / 400pp / 978-1789095364
About Claire Eliza Bartlett
Claire Eliza Bartlett is a writer and tour guide living in Copenhagen. Her debut novel, We Rule the Night, was described as “electrifying” by Publishers Weekly and “fierce and compelling” by Kirkus, who named it one of their best books of 2019.
About The Winter Duke
SHE SURVIVED THE CURSE. NOW SHE MUST SURVIVE THE THRONE.
All Ekata wants is to stay alive—and the chance to prove herself as a scholar. Once Ekata’s brother is finally named heir to the dukedom of Kylma Above, there will be nothing to keep her at home with her murderous family. Not her books or her experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness, and no one can find a cure.
In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s captivating warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love. . .or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s magic and power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield them both.
Q&A With Claire Eliza Bartlett
Thank you Claire for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel, The Winter Duke. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect within the book?
Readers can expect political intrigue, a heroine who mistakes sarcasm for capability, a fun, flirty love interest and, in my opinion, a really fun dual setting!
What was your initial inspiration for the narrative in The Winter Duke?
My inspiration came from two places: many years ago, I tried to do a National Novel Writing Month challenge with a concept I called The City Above and the City Below. I had this idea for two interconnected cities, one of which sat atop a frozen lake, while the other sat beneath it and was populated by mer-people. I never finished that novel, and I tossed everything but the setting out the window. In my mind it was connected to some kind of weird, Twelve Dancing Princesses allegory.
Some time later, I was reading a book about the Romanov family, and thinking, wow. Royal families can be a Lot, but the Romanovs went the extra mile in terms of intrigue, patricide, fratricide and all around bad decisions. I combined the setting, the disastrous family, and fairy tale elements, and thus The Winter Duke was born.
The story sounds phenomenal. It looks like Ekata faces a whole host of troubles on her journey in The Winter Duke. What was the most fun and the most challenging aspect of creating her story?
Thank you! The most challenging piece was definitely the intrigue. All these ministers and courtiers, pushing Ekata to do what they want, all holding snippets of the truth while the full culprits remain hidden…it was a lot to plot out.
The most fun aspect was definitely Ekata’s relationships. So many of her interactions stem from her doing something foolish, then having to live with the consequences. It was so enjoyable to write.
Could you give us a few more details about the setting we get to experience in The Winter Duke?
We have two settings in The Winter Duke. The closed-off palace and tiny city-state of Kylma Above is almost all ice, from the walls to the beds, and the whole palace is entwined in dangerous winter roses. But beneath the palace, and the lake, Kylma Below is alive with its own civilization and has its own Grand Duke. These mer-people cultivate magic and carve their buildings from black rock, and they rely on their upstairs neighbors for virtually all trade and contact with the outside world.
Which central theme in The Winter Duke do you hope the reader will connect with the most?
That you sometimes have to take up a mantle you don’t want, but you don’t have to abandon who you are when you do it.
Which aspect(s) of the fantasy genre in particular appeals to you the most as an author?
I love the exploration of secondary worlds. How we can echo the problems of our own world within them, and how we can fix the problems of our own world within them. Also, magic is so cool.
How did your experience writing The Winter Duke differ from your other novels?
First of all, this was the first book I’ve ever written on deadline. It was intense! I experienced intense burnout right before we got started, which made the process more stressful.
On the other hand, it was the first book I’ve written with a professional team on my side – my agent and editor were so incredible about coaching me, giving me feedback, and helping me wade through the bad prose to get to the good stuff. I wouldn’t have finished this book without them.
Is there a part of The Winter Duke that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
I really enjoyed writing Ekata’s relationship with Inkar, and I think it came out almost exactly as I’d envisioned it in the beginning (which might make it the only thing!) I have a lot of quotes that I enjoy, but here’s a little conversation between Ekata and Inkar that I had a lot of fun writing – and I enjoyed the whole scene, in fact. Here, Inkar has just persuaded Ekata to take her for a nighttime walk through their frozen ice city:
‘The night was blessedly still when we stepped outside. No wind to chill us, no snow to settle on us. The stars were a riot across the sky, and the moon a thin, sideways smile. Inkar gasped, coughed, and gasped again.
“Bracing, isn’t it?” I said smugly.
“I have little hairs on the inside of my nose,” Inkar began.
“I didn’t really need to know that.”
“They are all frozen.” Inkar pulled up her scarf to cover the lower half of her face.’
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
Going through my old school papers, it seems that as soon as I knew how to write I was saying that I wanted to be an author, a paleontologist, or an egyptologist (this tells you all you need to know about me as a kid). One master’s degree in Egyptology later, I can safely say that writing is indeed the life for me! I grew up reading Jane Yolen and anything that was fairy-tale adjacent, and I pretty much always tended toward fantasy.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
Right now I’m really into cooking shows. Reading is, of course, a big one, and I’ve gotten a few knitting projects underway. Right now one hobby has been a sort of extended spring cleaning, as I get ready for a major and exciting change in my life!
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
For anyone who likes nonfiction, The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore is a really great, imminently readable history of the Romanov family. It’s a true brick of a book, but you won’t believe some of the things you read inside.
For fiction, I’m about ⅔ of the way through The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, and it’s a beautifully told Russian fairy tale novel. I also just read White Fox by Sara Faring, which is out on September 22nd. It’s thrilling, gripping, fairy-tale-esque and creepy!
Thank you so much to Claire for taking the time to answer all my questions about The Winter Duke that released today for us all to enjoy! It sounds like a really cool fantasy novel that explores two fascinating settings, some incredible characters and a series of meaningful themes. Thank you to everyone for coming by to support this post, Claire and The Winter Duke. Thank you to Titan Books for this excellent opportunity. Please consider The Winter Duke as an upcoming read, there is a lot of positive buzz going around. I hope to be sharing my review as well very soon.