ARC Review: A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos & (translated by) Hildegarde Serle

A Winter's Promise (The Mirror Visitor Quartet, #1)A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Release date (English edition): September 25, 2018

Where once there was unity, vastly different worlds now exist. Over each, the spirit of an omnipotent and immortal ancestor abides.

Long ago, following a cataclysm called the Rupture, the world was shattered into many floating celestial islands, known now as arks. Ophelia lives on Anima, where inhabitants can read the pasts of objects. What’s more, she is also a “mirror-traveler,” possessing an ability that has been passed down to her through generations. Her idyllic existence on Anima is disrupted when she is promised in marriage to Thorn, an influential member of a distant clan. Still only a girl, Ophelia must leave her family and follow her fiancé to Citaceleste, the capital of a cold and icy ark called Pole. But there, her future husband seems indifferent to her and she slowly realizes that her presence on Pole is part of a much bigger plot and has far-reaching ramifications not only for her but for her entire world.

Warnings: physical abuse, violence, fatmisia

The world of the Mirror Visitor quartet is a sort of steampunk and fantasy blend, and hints of futurism (at least for the background). Here, the world is literally divided into fragments of the Earth floating around in space (by some trick of magic presumably that is messing with the laws of phsyics), each ruled by a family spirit, AKA gods, and each having their own form of governance. The main storyline is about Ophelia, who comes from Anima, Artemis’ Ark, where the latter’s descendants have psychometric powers, and the land is sort of a socialist community, being handed over as a diplomatic tribute in marriage to Pole, ruled in a monarchy by Lord Farouk, a hedonistic man-child god who pretty much leaves the ruling of his Ark to his Treasurer, and her fiance, Thorn. The main struggle of the character is to adjust to this new world, to establish her place in it, to not get used as a pawn in the games between the nobles, while in hiding.

I think discussing Ophelia’s character is an important part of how this plot progresses. She is a quiet, reserved woman who doesn’t think much of herself but doesn’t let anyone walk over her; she may come across as passive but I think it is cunning. Her journey through the book is to stand up for herself, to hold on to her sense of self in the face of cruelty, and to realize the power in her strength. Her being skeptical and wary of the Pole from the start, as well as decidedly not trusting Thorn and his aunt, Berenilde even though they are her only allies, is a smart strategy on her part. Opposed to her aunt and chaperone, Rosaline, she quietly observes and gathers information and makes calculated decisions; that doesn’t mean she doesn’t make mistakes or doesn’t act in haste, but she usually looks for the best option under the circumstances. The world of Pole is ruthless, and as she gets into the Citaceleste in disguise as Berenilde’s valet, she sees the nature of the society, which I feel armed her with enough knowledge before the story into the next book.

Additionally, and while I don’t know if this has been confirmed as canon, Ophelia’s characterization was very much coded as aro-ace. It could be that the vocabulary of ace-spec wasn’t used, but there are other novels that don’t explicitly say ace (The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is a good example) but still provide plenty of evidence for it. Ophelia says on multiple occasions that she has never felt anything for Thorn, nor would she ever, and if you are expecting a romance, you will be disappointed. (Honestly, the world is too cruel to warp even romantic love, as in the case of Berenilde) Thorn does look like he will be the broody-but-a-hidden-soft-side kind of love interest, but there’s are many ways the book subverts that. The book has some interesting secondary characters, and their relationships to Ophelia enrich the plot and decide her path forward.

The magic system in the book isn’t unusual, but it is pretty interesting. I would love to know why Artemis’ ark has only one kind of power, while Farouk’s had at least 5. Add to that, there was another ark called LandmArk that had the power to manipulate space. The amalgamation of the powers into the construction of Citaceleste was clever and showed forethought into the world-building. The plot is tight, and usually doesn’t leave room for much questions or doubts – if there were any in the start, they were usually resolved later on; it is not wholly unpredictable, but hits the sweet spot between keeping you interested by dangling clues but also not making you do all the work. There is still the mystery of the Books which seems like it is going to be a Big Thing later on, so I’m excited for what that might reveal.

Overall, a magical but not whimsical introduction to the world of the Arks, and a clever heroine to root for!

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Europa Editions, via Edelweiss.

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Buy links

Amazon | The Book Depository | Wordery

2 thoughts on “ARC Review: A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos & (translated by) Hildegarde Serle

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