Winterkeep is the fourth Graceling Realm novel by Kristin Cashore.
Finished on: 28.7.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other Graceling Realm novels.]
Content Note: child abuse
Bitterblue has been ruling her kingdom for five years. Years in which Monsea has drastically expanded its diplomatic relationships – now extending all the way to the continent Torla. The closest nation to Monsea on that continent is Winterkeep. Winterkeep is a wondrous lands to Monseans. A democratic republic where people can communicate telepathically with some of the animals. After the ship with her envoys sinks though, and Bitterblue receives intelligence that this may not have been an accident, she decides to visit Winterkeep herself, together with Hava and Giddon. But things don’t go exactly as planned. Meanwhile Lovisa Cavenda is the daughter of one of the most powerful families in Winterkeep. And she, too, wants to investigate some mysteries that happen around her family and that may also be key to Bitterblue’s mission.
Winterkeep is an exciting return to the Graceling Realm (after so many years, we get blessed again this fall with a fifth novel, so double yay) and I absolutely loved reading it. It was emotional and intriguing and expands the Graceling Realm in very interesting ways.
I am glad that I re-read the entire series before delving into Winterkeep, though you probably only need Bitterblue to get into this book (if you don’t want to read it all. But why wouldn’t you?). The story picks up five years after Bitterblue which is good because it also includes the romance between Bitterblue and Giddon and their age difference is not insubstantial (YMMV on that – with Bitterblue being older and getting to experience other relationships, it worked for me). Where I was still hesitant about this in Bitterblue (where it’s already hinted at), I was rooting very hard for the two of them here.
Cashore’s characters are complicated and unusual. Lovisa is abrasive and protective, not always easy to love in her brittleness, but also very vulnerable. Bitterblue is fierce and inventive, used to making decisions with a certain ruthlessness, but also very caring and ethical. Giddon is big and strong and maybe a tad too serious, but he is also openly emotional in his grief and does have a sense of humor when he can relax. And Adventure and the sea monster, the other two point of view characters, are so well done in their not humanity, it was quite a ride to read about them. I definitely loved them all.
Winterkeep introduces many new elements to the Graceling Realm, while exploring some of the same themes like the novels before it: how to find your own power and agency, despite difficult family backgrounds (to put it mildly. The book shows us very clearly how abusive Lovisa’s family is). How to use your privileges for good. How to be a leader and protect the people you love. And so much more.
It is also just nice to get a world that so easily includes people of color and queer people, and has a very open approach to sexuality, especially for its female protagonists. Both Bitterblue and Lovisa have casual sex, birth control is discussed as a matter of course, and that’s just what it is, it’s part of their autonomy.
Most importantly, though, Winterkeep is an emotional ride, a book that I could barely put down because I was invested so much. Waiting for it was definitely worth it – and now I can look forward to Seasparrow that will be about Hava.
Summarizing: a wonderful installment in a great series.