I read the first three books of C.L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul fantasy romance series ages ago, but I fell off the wagon for one reason or another. And I love the idea of fantasy romances; invented world fantasies are some of my favorites, and I’m a sucker for stories about relationships and how they grow, so when the opportunity came up to read a stand-alone fantasy romance by Wilson, I took it.
The Winter King is not a perfect book. There were points at the beginning where I seriously considered stopping my read and never looking back, but I’m glad I stuck with it through the rough patches. The world building is interesting, and the characters grew on me despite the rough starts for both of them. I ended up liking the story, but I have to confess, there were plenty of moments in the book where I either laughed out loud when I wasn’t supposed to or rolled my eyes at how boneheadedly stupid the hero and heroine could be. It’s not without faults, but it is an enjoyable read.
Khamsin is basically a hidden princess of the kingdom of Summerlea. Her father hates her, and she’s spent her whole life hidden away. Wynter is the king of Wintercraig, and I have to admit, I cackled at his name. The “y” makes it uniqueÂ or something. Khamsin’s brother stealsÂ Wynter’s fiancÃ©e and murders his beloved younger brother, and thus begins the conflict that brings Khamsin and Wynter together. Her father sees a chance to get rid of her once and for all and marries her off to Wynter as part of a surrender treaty.
Basically, the romance is about taking a marriage born of dubious consent and turning it into a loving relationship between two people who probably would get along wonderfully if it weren’t for that pesky being-from-enemy-nations problem. And I think Wilson pulls off this kind of romance well; I totally bought into how they fell in love and thought it was well-done. The love scenes are very steamy and for the most part well-written (I cackled when Wynter shouts “Winter’s Frost!” during his orgasm. I couldn’t help it.). I did get frustrated with both characters at times because they are stubborn and refuse to actually talk about things with each other, instead stewing and getting angry and jumping to the wrong conclusions. Le sigh. Luckily they’re both smart enough to eventually work things out, but that’s really not my favorite way of introducing conflict into a relationship in a romance.
But there’s a sceneÂ that really, really bugged me in the beginning. I could buy into the whole married-off-as-a-warprize thing in the setting itself, and I like that Wilson deals with Khamsin’s end of this by making her realize that she actually can have a better life with Wynter than in her father’s care as well as getting back at her awful dad by putting her own future children on his throne. Khamsin went into the marriage with both eyes open, and I appreciate that.
What bugged me was when they first meet, when Khamsin is disguised as a maid and is trying to rescue some of her mother’s possessions, Wynter is super creepy to her. He’s theoretically trying to get a rise out of her, but he does it by groping her breast and getting all up in her space. Even his friend/advisor warns him off of it, but we get the rather tired explanation that magic was at work and it caused him to be uncontrollably attracted to her.
Sorry, that trope is tired, and I hate it.
Thankfully that’s the last of the rapey stuff between Wynter and Khamsin, and he does spend a lot of his time angsting about whether or not he hurt her or took her without consent, so it’s not necessarily a reprisal of those horrible rape-romances of the 80s. And as I said, Khamsin goes into the marriage aware of what it entails, but that moment very early in the book very nearly turned me off of it completely.
But I did stick with it, and I did like the book. It’s a good, steamy read set in a pretty well-developed fantasy world. The ending was satisfying. Just be aware of the consent problems as you go into this book if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.
Though I have one more complaint, though this one not directed at the writing. I wasÂ so pleased to have Khamsin described as having brown skin. She wasn’t lily white! It was awesome! But… the cover! With Whitey McPaleface… What happened there, Avon? Whitewashing characters on covers sucks.