A Book Review by LadyRhi of Kristen Britain’s new book Winterlight
Aaaand Karigan had another life-altering development that landed her with yet another impressive title, as per usual…
I know that sounds rather less than impressed, but honestly, I didn’t really mind it. I think of Karigan in the same way I think of the player’s character in the Elder Scrolls games. She is a special person. Like, she’s really, seriously, ludicrously special.
Wielder of a rare magic few have ever possessed—check. Mystically called to serve her king—check. Has a slightly magical horse—check. The only person in the entire kingdom to be honored with a knighthood in two centuries—check. Descended from a major figure out of legend—check. Personally targeted by the big bad of all badiness—check. Somehow made part of the royal line of an ancient, magical race—check. The ‘chosen one’ of the god of death—check. In a (very) complicated will-they-won’t-they (not very) secret romance with the king—check…
Karigan is ALL THE THINGS.
Yet, it works for her. One of the most entertaining reasons is that she doesn’t want any of it. Karigan would be perfectly happy to chuck all the titles, honors, and mumbo jumbo into the manure pile if only everyone would let her… well, maybe not the increasingly hot n’ heavy looks King Zachary’s been giving her, anyway. But the rest can get stuffed for all she cares.
Another reason the overload of prestige doesn’t weigh the character down is that while she has so many amazing abilities, qualities, and relationships that would make most any other protagonist outrageously OP, none of it does her any real favors. In fact, almost all of what makes her special ends up leading her to suffering and loss. It’s the ironic, dark gift of fate that you would never wish on anyone, especially not a character who makes it so easy to root for her.
So, Lady Winterlight? I didn’t bat an eyelash. It’s an interesting new fold in Karigan’s life that might even answer a number of lingering questions raised in previous installments about her mother’s side of the family if the hints do, in truth, lead to a revelation about her being descended from an Eletian bloodline via the Greys. The weaving together of those plot threads and Jametari’s surprise announcement of Karigan’s accession to the House of Santanara creates the potential for a monumental reveal in the final book.
When it comes down to it, though, all these ‘special’ things about Karigan are most notable for the fact that they have nothing to do with why we love her. She pays dearly for her heroics and isn’t spared the long and soul-shattering process of dealing with her trauma (presented very powerfully through her visions of Nyssa). It’s her personality, humor, and extraordinary courage in the face of far more tragedy than anyone should ever be made to endure that makes her who she really is.
A Season of War
The clash between Sacoridia and Second Empire has been brewing for a long time, and the big battle finally breaks loose in a moment when the king is not there to defend his capital.
Everything builds to the siege of Sacor City—the truest test of Zachary’s monarchy and his queen to this point. In some really exceptional scenes, both he and Estora prove their respective mettle. Along with the courage of the Sacoridians and the heroics of a certain Green Rider, they withstand the threat. Yet, the victory over Second Empire and the Darrow Raiders, though deeply satisfying, carries a sense of foreboding. The day was won, but they have a far more terrifying enemy rising within Blackveil, and every time they’ve faced Mornhavon’s forces until now, they’ve been left with hints of a horrifying reality. After all, it took a hundred years to defeat him during the Long War, but the combined strength of the Sacor Clans and Eletia couldn’t destroy him in the end.
The final confrontation will be very interesting.
The Estora Conundrum
As a side note, I have to take a moment here to say that I really appreciate that Estora is allowed to be a strong, intelligent, and genuinely likeable character despite the fact that she’s married to the man our heroine is in love with. So often, stories will turn someone like Estora into a villain simply because they’re the one who sleeps beside the main character’s love interest. While she’s said and done things that were difficult to forgive, the jealousy and spite she once held for Karigan was ultimately understandable. She truly loves her husband, and I can’t imagine how painful it would be to discover that the man you’re married to loves someone else (especially your best friend). Throughout the series, Estora has shown her power as a character, grown beyond things that might hold others like her back, and in Winterlight, she decisively proved exactly what she told Zachary in THAT scene towards the end—that their marriage came about for good reasons, if not romantic ones. She’s exactly the kind of queen Sacoridia needs right now.
I can’t help but feel Kristen has been looking forward to this chance to highlight Estora this way, especially since she goes so far as to punctuate it by having Karigan acknowledge that while she loves the king, she wouldn’t want the burdens that come from being his queen. It was really well done, I think, and does justice to an impressive female character.
Speaking of Responsibility…
There was a persistent theme running throughout Winterlight that didn’t see a resolution by the end, as I’d been expecting. Captain Connly outraged us all when he demoted Karigan, repeatedly chewed her out, and berated her for being unreliable. Fortunately, Zachary called him out on it, revealing the captain’s lack of confidence within his own position without Colonel Mapstone there to lead. While the king’s intercession helped deescalate the situation, Karigan remains stripped of her former rank as Chief Rider.
As with her reflection of Estora’s responsibilities as queen, Karigan considers that she is relieved to be free of the responsibilities her short-lived role placed on her. However, the point is made over and over and over again throughout the book that even without the position, she is more than equal to the responsibility and remains someone the other Riders turn to for support, hope, and leadership. It’s clear for all to see that while Connly had a point that she wasn’t really around enough the past few years to fulfill the position of Chief Rider, she’s more than earned it.
I’d honestly expected this to find its resolution in a new position for Karigan after the Battle of the Sleeping Wealds. With Beryl’s death and given the pivotal role our heroine played in the defeat of Second Empire, promotion to the rank of major could have made sense. Something that isn’t so closely tied to the mundane operations of the Riders, but reflects the more prominant role she typically plays, and allows her the freedom to function more autonomously, as Zachary told Connly she needs. It seemed like a clean fit and without any closure to the issue, it felt like a meaningful part of the book remained unfinished.
Sweet Baby Yoda in his space cradle. That scene, guys. THAT scene!
The emotional and sexual tension between Karigan and Zachary that had finally been openly acknowledged in Firebrand kicked up several notches in Winterlight, and it was clear that we were reaching a breaking point. With her new title and position as a member of the Eletian ruling family, the main barrier between them was suddenly gone, but rather than alleviating the pain of their separation it only made it more heart wrenching. Karigan may be royalty herself now, but her social elevation came far too late for it to allow them to be together as they would wish. Nothing has ever been fair for this couple, and the moment the realization hit Karigan, I felt the punch in the gut along with her.
What a showstopper it was for Estora to take the two of them aside and tell them outright that they have her permission to be together! Major props to Kristen for that one because I didn’t see it coming.
Another reviewer commented that it was something she couldn’t imagine occurring outside of a fanfic, and I have to agree. That’s not to say anything negative of either Winterlight or fanfiction (some fanfics are honestly better than bestsellers, to be frank), but rather that Kristen surprised me with her willingness to commit to her characters’ relationships in a way that’s outside the norm of this level of mainstream fiction. I was staggered when I read it, but after the initial shock that something like that could happen in a professionally published piece of heroic fantasy, I was truly delighted.
The magic of fanfiction is that it is unbound by standards of commercial media and can be literally anything the author dreams up. It allows boundaries to be broken in ways that readers can’t witness other than on a site like AO3. Sometimes, it can be silly, true. It’s a medium of infinite possibilities, however, and that has led to some exceptionally beautiful, brave, groundbreaking, and satisfying feats of storytelling. Having an echo of that appear in Winterlight is extraordinary!
While it may feel a little hokey, given that it gives Karigan & Zachary the go-ahead to be together, the scene was presented in a light that actually made sense for the characters involved. We were shown Estora’s grief over the death of F’ryan in the first book, then she allowed us a more intimate look into her loss in the second book, and onward. We knew all along that she had the background to understand the pain of being unable to act on your love for the one person you cannot have (love for a Green Rider, no less). That never guaranteed she truly would be understanding, much less act upon it, but seeing her grant her husband and friend the freedom she was never given became a much more meaningful & emotional moment the longer I sat with it.
It has to be said that while the scene delivered on a potential we could see developing throughout the series, and the payoff centered around the OTP in a way that had my jaw dropping, the real glory of it belonged wholly to Estora. She was the power behind it, and what her choice revealed of her as a character makes her shine.
As a hardcore Karigan/Zachary shipper since the beginning, I’m so excited to see not only their relationship finally having the chance to be acted upon, but also the dynamics between them and Estora moving forward. In my hopelessly mushy heart, I would love to see them be a quirky little family together, but I’m bracing for the difficulties and awkwardness a secret romance will inevitably unleash for them, instead. Not only will they need to be discreet, they have dangers like the luin prime’s hatred of Karigan to contend with should they slip up. It’s not going to be easy, but sweet Aeryc and Aeryon, I can’t wait!
One Last Stand-Out Tidbit…
With the opening of this new chapter in Karigan’s relationship with Zachary, I can’t help but look back at the moment in First Rider’s Call when she refused his advances after receiving the gift of the brush & mirror. She’d stood her ground, however much she wanted to listen to her heart, knowing they could never have something that she would consider real, and said that she respected herself too much to accept something she saw as sordid. Through the adventures of the intervening books, however, she’s gone through an extraordinary transformation. Now, she realizes that she does and should value her feelings, and that love in the shadows is no less real for being a secret. The arc between the two points in her story is genuinely brilliant!
A Promise for Things to Come
If you couldn’t tell, I really loved Winterlight. While I’ll likely always look back at Mirror Sight with frustration, the Green Rider series will always hold a special place in my heart, especially for one overarching theme in particular.
I’m thrilled that Kristen is continuing to gradually draw back the curtain on the connection between Karigan and Zachary, giving us the tantalizing promise that they are something very, very special above and beyond their roles either as a Green Rider and her king or a romantic couple. She took the time to expound on the symbolism that has been teasing us for a while now, exploring the concept of duality, and the way the two characters complement one another in such important ways ~ the Firebrand and Lady Winterlight? Kristen is building to something that I am dying to see revealed in all its glory, and the wait for the conclusion is going to be all the more agonizing for how spectacular its prelude has been.
Thank you, Lady Rhi for allowing me to share this review with my readers. I watched while you read this massive hardcover book three times all the way through in two days in absolute bliss. So content to finally be back in this world. I just knew this would be a review worth sharing. Judi