Winter of Ice and Iron, by Rachel Neumeier

NB-I start this post with blathering.  If you want to find out what I think of the book, skip down to the part where I've written the heading: A Brief Synopsis.  Or you could just cut to the chase and go further down to the heading:  What I think of the book.  Spoiler: I liked it lots, and much of it I loved.

Rachel Neumeier is one of my favorite contemporary writers of fantasy.  Her books are very very good at making pictures in my mind that blot out reality in a most satisfactory way, I like her interweaving of the magical, the personal, and the political, and I like her characters very much too.  So  I was thrilled to receive an ARC of Winter of Ice and Iron (Saga Press, November 21, 2017).  And of course since it was a book I really wanted to read, it sat on the shelf...and I was full of good intentions to have it read and ready to review by its release day.  It was with great happiness that the moment finally came- it was time to start reading!  yay!  But it was not to be.  I found, as I turned the first few pages, and was introduced to a rather complicated world, that thoughts of immanent plumbers and electricians and family coming to stay, and the demolition work and house cleaning that had to happen before these three sets of visitors, interfered so much that I couldn't enjoy it.  So I waited to read it until after the Thanksgiving feast, when the visitors were ensconced in comfortable chairs and the plumber came less frequently and the gutter repair people only once. Then and only then could I set my mind to devouring, and it was good.

A Briefish Synopsis

Important fact about this world--there are powers that grow from the different lands and are partnered/channeled by/nested in the people that rule that lands.  They are named, and they have personalities that are shaped by generations of the rulers who held them, and since some places and families are kinder and gentler than others, some of these powers are kinder than others.  If you've ever read Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster series, you'll be reminded of the relationship between rulers and their lands in those books, although the expression of that concept takes a different form and path here; the powers of place have stronger identities of their own, while simultaneously being in a feedback loop with the personalities of the human rulers.

There is a young Duke, Innisth, master of a cold mountain land (the sort that's full of wolves) and the power he inherits from his abusive, sadistic, powerful father is a harsh one.  He does not want to be like his father, so he keeps the power under control as much as he can, focusing on his people and their protection and gaining in return their trust and loyalty.  He is very smart, and I was briefly reminded (in a part of the story that involved political scheming) of Megan Whalen Turner's Eugenidies.

There is a young woman, Kehara, who is the beloved heir to a gentler land and a gentler, though strong, power.

And there are two kings who have gone mad, and the power of one of them threatens to become a god and cast all the lands of this world into desolation.

The Fortunate Gods do not wish this desolation to happen, so they nudge events as far as they can.  Kehara is nudged from her position as heir and from her home on a perilous journey that leads at last to the mountains of Innisth's land, and there her familial power and his become allies.   Innisth has a plan to stop the mad king--to ally himself through marriage with Kehara's family and its power, and to extend the boundaries of his lands into her family's.

So the reader is has two burning questions that keep the pages turning--

Will the good guys win?  The good guys are very smart, and they are very determined, and they almost break on the bad guys and it is tense.  There are plottings and fightings and bad magic used against the good guys.

Will Kehara and Innisth love each other?  Innisth is so broken and hurt by his father and the sadistic power he holds, and he just about breaks my heart.  He cannot think of himself as kind, yet in his actions he shows his decency and fundamental goodness just beautifully.  Kehara has always known she'd make a marriage of policy, but the Wolf Duke of a cold mountain country was not her first pick,and Innisth isn't really good at romance.....and can't imagine himself as someone who could be loved.  So it is tense.  Their relationship is not unlike that of the Pure women and shapeshifting wolves of Neumeier's Black Dog stories; Kehara's innate power brings calm to Innisth's, letting the wolf rest in peace.

Of course the reader assumes it will all work out without the dragons of winter (these are actual, real dragons that make winter rather scary and protective powers rather necessary in the colder climes) breaking free once and for all and the whole land becoming a hell of cold and twisted magic...

What I think of the book:

So by the time I realized that these were these two burning questions, I was hooked as all heck, but it takes a while before they start to burn brightly.  Don't start reading this unless you have time to sink into it, then expect yourself to think --only three hundred and fifty pages left I can finish this before bedtime....At around this point if you are me you are also thinking Innisth you are breaking my heart and I hope you get to be happy; you deserve to be loved.  I liked Kehara very much, but she is not as interesting.  She's sane and steady, and so people don't have a whole lot of interesting reactions to her, as opposed to the people around Innisth who know that he is wolf as well as protector.  Kehara also has no immediate power to wield in the struggle; she is not a shaper of events, but a holder of events to the necessary course they have been set in by others.   But that is an important role too.

My one critical thought is that the author didn't quite give the reader enough credit with respect to the worldbuilding.  I liked the world and its magic a lot, it felt very real. But it is complicated.  There's not a single big info dump, but instead the descriptions of the complicated reality are sprinkled throughout, and I feel that they kept being sprinkled into the story long after the reader had grasped what was necessary, slowing things down a tad and making the book (576 pages) longer than it needed to be (aka taking time away from Kehara and Innisth....).

short answer:  Very good reading! Great characters, fascinating magic, vivid sense of place.


  1. I AGREE ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU HAVE SAID. If Ms. Rachel ever held a "how to write speculative fiction" workshop, I might just have to open the door to my introvert-hobbit-home and be there with bells on. Or, at least think about it for more than thirty seconds. I've only read her YA stuff so far... well, maybe one adult one? But I've been FREAKIN' IMPRESSED. I hadn't even heard of this one, but I've been living my life with a head in a bucket lately.

    So, yay for this review.

    1. Have you read House of Shadows? that's my favorite!

    2. It's first on my post-Cybs list to read!

  2. I'm going straight away to pick this one up...sounds REALLY good...thx for sharing!

  3. Now that I've read this one I can read your review and say that I agree completely with everything you said about it! Loved Innisth (I'm too lazy to go check, but I think there's a T in it); yes, Kehara wasn't as compelling a character, but I liked her quiet strength and conviction. The world building was maybe a tad more complicated than it needed to be, and the final magic confrontation was overly dependent on magic for its resolution (which means the author can just say, "that's how the magic worked," and we just have to believe her). But I liked the way the land power interacts with the human personalities; that was cool.

    There was just one scene that threw me out of the book, and out of Innisth's character: it made me say, no, sorry, I can't accept that and then accept that Kehara would accept that. If it had been a titch less extreme I could have been okay with it, but I've just decided to erase it from my memory of the book! An immersive, enjoyable read, as all her books are. I can't wait until the next Black Dog book comes out!

    1. (Ha! I see I had the t for the first few mentions, and then...not. thanks for pointing that out)

      And yes, can't wait for the next Black Dog!


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