Narrated by Heather Wilds
I gobbled up the Tairen Soul series a couple years ago and had The Winter King pre-ordered in print for over a year. The other series wasn’t a success on audio for me – the narrator didn’t work so I switched to print. I was hoping for a better experience with The Winter King, as I saw that the narrator was different.
Wynter Atrialan is the King of Wintercraig, a Norse/Viking-like society (except without the boats apparently). Wintercraig and Summerlea (to the south) have a trade arrangement whereby Wintercraig trades furs and raw materials to the Summerlanders in return for their weather gifts (which help regulate the seasons) and fresh produce. When Prince Falcon of Summerlea runs off with Wynter’s fiancée and the precious Book of Riddles and kills the pursuing young brother of the king, Wyn seeks magical vengeance. He swallows the “Ice Heart” and wages war on Summerlea.
After three years, Wynter comes to Summerlea to accept peace terms from his enemies. They stole from him a bride, a treasure and an heir. He will take the same from them. King Verdun of Summerlea must offer up one of his daughters for Wynter’s bride. She will have one year to provide an heir (who will inherit both kingdoms). If she does not, she will be left to the “mercy of the mountains” (a concept explained later in the book) and he will take another Summerlea princess to wife and so on until an heir is provided.
So far as everyone knows, there are three Summerlea princesses, known colloquially as “the seasons” for their gift names of Summer, Spring and Autumn. But, there are in fact, four princesses. Khamsin Coruscate (her gift name is Storm) has a wild weather gift which was indirectly responsible for the death of her mother, when Kham was only three years old. As a result, Verdun hates her and has kept her locked away in a remote corner of the palace. He resolves to provide Khamsin to Wynter as his bride. If she is killed by the Wintercraig king, Verdun won’t care – he would have done it himself if it would not guarantee a blood curse upon his family.
When Khamsin comes to Wintercraig, she struggles to learn the new culture and find acceptance among a grieving and suspicious people. She and Wynter have a great physical chemistry but the threat of the “mercy of the mountains” hangs over her. She draws on her hero, Lord Roland, a historical warrior prince of Summerlea, for inspiration. Khamsin grew up on stories of Roland and his legendary sword, Blazing. (A sword, by the way which has been missing for thousands of years, the location of which is said to be contained in the stolen Book of Riddles.)
Wynter, in the meantime, is relying upon the love he will feel for a child of his body to melt the Ice Heart. If he is unsuccessful, the Ice Heart will take him over and will bring about the return of the god Rorjak (the original holder of the Ice Heart), and through him, the end of the world.
Khamsin was mostly a Mary Sue and Wynter was fairly standard fantasy romance hero material. That said, I was sucked into the story and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit so long as I didn’t think about it too much.
There were some strange turns of phrase that felt almost anachronistic. It’s an alternate universe (AU) fantasy romance so of course, they can’t actually be anachronistic. But the setup is kind of medieval Vikings and the concept of “go[ing] large” seemed unlikely to fit well within that culture. Also, I had trouble imagining Wynter thinking of “swapping stain removal recipes”, even sarcastically. That medicinal plants such as comfrey, willow bark and chamomile were the same as in our world, also made it difficult for me to remember I was in another universe, so there were times when I found it difficult to orient myself within the story.
The narration was a bit of a mixed bag. Ms. Wilds has a pleasant voice to listen to and the production quality was clear and crisp. She didn’t have a deep hero voice, but rather gave Wynter an accent (replacing the w’s with v’s in a faux-Germanic manner) to distinguish him from Khamsin. This worked but it was a problem when Wynter was speaking to other Wintermen. I did feel however that she conveyed the various characterisations well.
Additionally, Ms. Wilds sometimes inserted extra and inappropriate vocal fullstops into the performance. For instance:-
What the text said:
Finally, near the bottom of the pile, beneath a tangle of long-outdated gowns, she saw the familiar, cracked leather bindings of Queen Rosalind’s handwritten gardener’s journal and her diary.
What I heard:
Finally, near the bottom of the pile, beneath a tangle of long-outdated gowns, she saw the familiar.
Cracked leather bindings of Queen Rosalind’s handwritten gardener’s journal and her diary.
This happened often and it really made a difference to this listener; it threw me out of the story repeatedly. There were even a couple of occasions where her inappropriate full stops/pauses gave a totally different (and incorrect) meaning to the text.
Also, there were times when she left an insufficient gap between sentences. This can create a sense of urgency but when the text does not call for excitement, it jars.
I did find myself wanting to listen and gritting my teeth through those aspects of the narration that bothered me, however. I got caught up in the story, even as I knew I was being manipulated into that reaction by the text and even when I could see its flaws. That Ms. Wilds had such a pleasing voice was a definite plus and I did enjoy her characterisations.
I liked the audiobook much better than the audio version of the Tairen Soul series but I did have some problems with the narrator’s performance and some weaknesses in the plot.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence: Fighting (plus physical abuse by a father against an adult child)
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
The Winter King was provided to AudioGals by Harper Audio for review.