A Winter’s Promise, by Christelle Dabos

Two days after Christmas found me in a decided post-holiday slump. Inclement weather had foiled our holiday travel plans (along with those of half of North America), and we were home alone with a stretch of gray, unplanned days before us. Independent sources had recently recommended The Mirror Visitor Quartet to both my daughter and me. Since A Winter’s Promise offered the–well, promising–prospect of light, atmospheric, wintry fantasy, I ventured in.

The opening pages checked all a book-lover’s boxes: A young woman emerges from a wardrobe (well, a mirror in a wardrobe) into an archive housed in a bad-tempered old building. For added enchantment, the heroine, Ophelia, is a museum curator and wears a scarf possessed of its own animating spirit.

In this post-cataclysmic version of the universe, the Earth has been riven into a number of “arks” suspended collectively, but separately, in space. Each ark functions as its own essential kingdom, populated by clans that rarely intermingle.

Ophelia has, nevertheless, agreed to an inter-ark marriage to a man she doesn’t know. Although arranged marriage seems to be customary in Dabos’s world, objections abound to this particular union. For one, Ophelia’s intended lives on the frozen Pole. Its inhabitants are known principally for their prowess in hunting the gigantic beasts they live alongside. Not much of a match for a reserved girl gifted as a “reader.” Granted, it’s not books she reads but the history of objects, whenever she touches them with ungloved hands. Still.

Although A Winter’s Promise sustained my interest, it didn’t quite measure up to my (possibly inflated) expectations. Admittedly, I’m not the target audience for a YA fantasy/romance. But my inner editor couldn’t help noting awkward phrases and abrupt shifts in point of view.

On a story level, I found the inexplicable brusqueness of Thorn (Ophelia’s fiance) a bit contrived and the arch coquetry of the court at the Pole annoying. After revisiting online reviews of the remaining books in the series, I decided to stop while I was still enjoying myself. (Especially knowing I could count on my daughter, who had outpaced me, for synopses. She’d already dropped a number of unintentional spoilers.)

Nevertheless, A Winter’s Promise has much to recommend it: mysterious mansions, quirky characters, unanticipated kindred spirits, and an enigmatic Darcy-esque love interest. I was also intrigued by the fact that the series was originally written in French. Contemplating where the perceived sentence-level awkwardness might have entered in and the possible composition of the original provided an interesting study.

All in all, I recommend A Winter’s Promise for teens who enjoy fantasy with a touch of mystery and light romance.

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