by Jacey Bedford
432pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.62/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

Set in 1800 in Britain, Mad King George is on the throne with Napoleon Bonaparte knocking on the door. Unregistered magic users are pursued to the death, while in every genteel home resides uncomplaining rowankind bondservants who have become so commonplace that no one can recall where they came from.

Meanwhile, Rossalinde Tremayne is satisfied with her life as a cross-dressing privateer captain on the high seas. But a bitter deathbed visit to her estranged mother changes her life completely when she inherits a magical winterwood box. Now, not only is she confronted with a newly-discovered brother, and an annoyingly handsome wolf shapeshifter, Rossalinde has to decide whether or not to open the box to free rowankind and right an ancient wrong—even if it brings the downfall of Britain.

This brand-new series is perfect for fans of Elizabeth Bear, D.B. Jackson, and Marie Brennan, as well as readers of historical fiction who are looking for an accessible gateway to fantasy.

Winterwood, the first book in Jacey Bedford’s Rowankind series, has been one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 ever since I hosted the cover reveal toward the end of last year. Both the book and the heroine sounded wonderful, and after reading the first chapter, I thought I was going to love it. Despite its promising opening, I soon found myself bored, and it only occasionally managed to recapture my interest for short spurts once I got further into it.

The first few pages introduce Ross, a widowed privateer captain who followed her heart and defied her mother’s expectations when they didn’t suit her—as well as society’s expectations about how a woman should dress and behave. I was immediately intrigued by her story as I read about her final encounter with her estranged mother as she lay on her deathbed. It shows exactly why Ross left home years ago as her mother hurls insults at her, but it also shows some of the life she’s lived as she thinks about her losses and the ghost of her husband that often appears to her. Their conversation also sets up a big part of the story as Ross inherits a winterwood box and learns that there is a family secret to be uncovered.

I was looking forward to finding out more about these mysteries, but I found the actual story rather dull. Ross encounters magical beings who spout cryptic information about her family’s past in a rather cliche scene, and there’s a lot of wandering around meeting characters who do not appear often enough to have fleshed out personalities. It’s especially unexciting as Ross tries to resist the task that was thrust upon her, but once she decides to pursue it, there’s a lot of time spent investigating that I didn’t find much more exciting: traveling, observing, discussing magic, and asking questions. The narrative spends too much time examining the meaning of what is learned, but I think the biggest problem was that there was a lack of personal connection that kept me from becoming invested in any of the characters.

I loved the idea of Ross as a character: a fiercely independent privateer captain whose crew respected her and looked to her for leadership. Yet, despite being the only character with much development and having her own arc about letting go of her own past, she’s not given much depth since there’s more focus on magic and mystery than her as a person. Even as the story does delve more into the personal when Ross discovers family she never knew she had, there’s still some distance. The closest it comes to a meaningful connection is the romance, but that too seems underdeveloped since it advances rather quickly. There isn’t time spent showing how the relationship grows since she and this other person barely even spend time together before it’s mentioned that he’s in love with her.

Winterwood contains some fantastic seeds for a novel, and the premise of a female privateer captain confronting both her own and her family’s past appealed to me. I also appreciated the emphasis on freedom in various forms that ran through it: literal freedom but also freedom from societal constraints and one’s own reluctance to move forward. Unfortunately, the novel in its entirety wasn’t to my taste due to the dearth of well-rounded characters, a bland narrative voice, and a rather uninspired storyline.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt (click link below cover image)

Other Reviews of Winterwood: