Series: Rowankind #1
Published by DAW Books on February 2, 2016
Genres: Alt-History, Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
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It's 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne, and Bonaparte is hammering at the door. Magic is strictly controlled by the Mysterium, but despite severe penalties, not all magic users have registered.
Ross Tremayne, widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain and unregistered witch, likes her life on the high seas, accompanied by a boatload of swashbuckling pirates and the possessive ghost of her late husband, Will. When she pays a bitter deathbed visit to her long-estranged mother she inherits a half brother she didn't know about and a task she doesn't want: open the magical winterwood box and right an ancient wrong--if she can.
Enter Corwen. He's handsome, sexy, clever, and capable, and Ross doesn't really like him; neither does Will's ghost. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he on?
Unable to chart a course to her future until she's unraveled the mysteries of the past, she has to evade a ruthless government agent who fights magic with darker magic, torture, and murder; and brave the hitherto hidden Fae. Only then can she hope to open the magical winterwood box and right her ancestor's wrongdoing. Unfortunately, success may prove fatal to both Ross and her new brother, and disastrous for the country. By righting a wrong, is Ross going to unleash a terrible evil? Is her enemy the real hero and Ross the villain?
Swashbuckling fantasy adventure — with nuance
How could I resist a fantasy about a “widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain and unregistered witch,” her pirate crew, a werewolf, a ghost, and the Fae? Also a magical box, a wrong to right, and a ruthless, magic-wielding government spymaster.
The answer, of course, is that I couldn’t.
Winterwood was everything I hoped for and more. I loved it! Jacey Bedford combines great storytelling, good worldbuilding, and interesting characters, serving up a compelling novel with a well-balanced mixture of action and dialogue. Add in healthy helpings of mystery and magic and a dash each of romance and political intrigue, woven into a believable alt-history setting, and it was the perfect escape from the pandemic shutdown.
The novel is told in first person from the point of view of Ross (Rossalinde), the notorious Captain Red Tremayne, a title and career she inherited from her late husband. She’s a privateer, sailing for the Crown, and prefers the sea and her ship, the Heart of Oak, to life ashore, for reasons that become evident as you get further into the book — yet at least half of the book takes place in England. Ross is strong and independent, openminded, practical, and intelligent, and loyal to her friends. She’s also lonely, misses her husband, and longs for a connection to her remaining family. She is neither a saint nor a villain, and her judgement is not infallible. Ross is, in a sense, a “Chosen One,” in that she has the power and responsibility to right a 200-year-old wrong. The implications of that decision are significant — assuming she can stay alive long enough to carry it out. Ross struggles with that decision through the book… all the while trying to come to terms with who and what she is, determine whom she can trust, and discover why a king’s agent is determined to kill her.
We see the other characters only through Ross’s eyes and thoughts, and it’s interesting to see her perceptions of them change over time — particularly the rowankind boy David, and Corwen, a gentleman who appears out of nowhere and seems determined to assist Ross. I also became rather fond of Hookey, her first mate, a blunt and sometimes ruthless pirate whose loyalty and friendship seem unshakeable. Even minor characters are well-drawn and believable, and the villain, though obsessed and despicably ruthless, acts not because he is inherently evil but out of deep-seated beliefs. In fact, throughout the entire book Bedford eschews simplistic tropes of “good” and “evil” in favor of more realistic ethical struggles between expediency and honor, self-interest and altruism, fealty vs. what is morally right, and the good of the many vs. the needs of the few.
Winterwood is the first in a trilogy. I have already ordered the next two books, and can’t wait to read them.
Read for the COYER Quarantine Challenge (Opposites Readathon), The Backlist Reader Challenge, and the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. (See Challenges page in the header menu for details.)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Quarantine Edition (2020)
- Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2020
- The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020