Fans of Kristin Cashore’s previous books set in the fantastical world of the Seven Realms (Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue) will pick up Winterkeep with certain expectations. Breathe a sigh of relief now: Winterkeep does not disappoint.
Told in multiple narrative voices, not all of which are human, and featuring both new and returning characters, Winterkeep begins with a mystery. Why did a ship carrying Queen Bitterblue’s envoy to the nation of Winterkeep sink before its passengers could convey a critical message about zilfium, a powerful but environmentally destructive fuel mined there? Bitterblue, along with her adviser Giddon and spy Hava, departs on a diplomatic voyage to investigate, but very little goes as planned.
In a seemingly parallel story set in Winterkeep’s renowned academy, a politics and government student named Lovisa—whose parents represent the continent’s two political parties, the earth-conscious Scholars and the practical Industrialists— goes in search of a mysterious hidden object. And at the bottom of the ocean, an enormous, many-tentacled creature of the deep who has grown fond of sunken ships and sparkly treasures begins to sing.
There’s no straightforward good and evil in Winterkeep. Instead, there are cats and keys and cake, telepathic foxes and flying airships, dolphins that speak only in images, locked drawers and very interesting teas. And lurking in the background are tales of the Keeper, a monster of myth who keeps the land and sea in balance and rises up in fury if the balance is disturbed.
By transporting the action to a new stage, Cashore ensures that Winterkeep is as accessible as possible to readers unfamiliar with her previous books, though there’s much here to reward longtime fans. Winterkeep is a tale full of plotty intrigue and characters who must uncover truths within themselves even as they navigate a world of secrets around them. The detailed world building, slow-burning suspense, emotional tenderness and nuanced perspectives on gender and sexuality, all of which have become Cashore’s calling cards, are all on full display and as enjoyable as ever.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Winterkeep author Kristin Cashore reveals her favorite literary winters.