A WINTER’S PROMISE by Christelle Dabos

At some point in history, the Earth exploded. All that remained of it was a glowing uninhabitable sphere surrounded by eternal clouds. Around this open core a completely new world was formed, composed of exactly 21 larger and 186 smaller floating pieces of land called arches. Each ark has its own unique history, its own living deity and protector, its own rulers, stewards, and social hierarchy, and the people who live on each of the arks have unique powers.

Ophelia lives on one of the great arches called Anima. In addition to being able to go through mirrors and being the curator of a museum that houses valuable ancient artifacts whose origins date back to the time of the unique planet Earth, Ophelia is also an animist. What does that mean? The unique ability of the inhabitants of Anime is that they can “read” objects by touch. Ophelia’s ability is unusually pronounced; with just one touch, Ophelia can trace the history of an object all the way to its creator, to its very creation.

Ophelia is also a terrible disgrace and frustration to her own family – they still haven’t managed to marry her because there are almost no suitors whose family, and himself, she hasn’t rejected and thus belittled in the eyes of the respectable world that lives on Anima.

Enlightened by the past inconveniences, the managers of Anime gave her one last chance and arranged her diplomatic marriage with a member of one of the aristocratic families from the northernmost ark of their new world, which they call simply – Pol. And it seemed that they were all very lucky because one prominent member of the mentioned aristocracy made it known that he was looking for an animist for his wife.

From everything she had heard and read about Pol until then, Ophelia shuddered; the illustrations of the inhabitants of that distant land showed ice-bound landscapes and fur-clad warriors, wild people who were hardly any different from the animals they hunted. How will an independent, educated, rebellious young lady with unusually strong powers fit in with these people?

When she sees her future husband, Mr. Thorne, it will become clear to Ophelia that a lot of things are not even close to what she expected them to be and that her biggest concern at Pol is not how to fit in, but how to survive?

The ark she arrived at was far from the untamed wilderness she had imagined, but it was far more bloodthirsty than it would have been even if it had been inhabited by real beasts.

Ophelia will soon realize that beneath the dazzling luxuries lurks decay, that beneath silk dresses lurk pointed blades, that behind smiles lurk murderous threats, that power does not lie in the hands of the most arrogant and loudest, that those who are openly morally monstrous may and bigger allies than those seemingly meek and modest, that those who are closest to her should beware of the most…

Why did her husband, who so obviously doesn’t love her, choose her? Why did he need an animator? Why does she have to hide her marriage on Pol, and especially her powers that made Mr. Thorn marry her?

She knew there was no love in her marriage, but it soon began to become clear to her that she had been brought to Paul to be just a useful pawn in a relentless struggle for power and wealth. Ophelia can live with the fact that her husband doesn’t love her, she can live with the fact that if she screws up that arranged marriage, she will be banished forever from her native Anime, but she can’t come to terms with the role she liked on Pol – she is aware that she owns rare, precious powers, and it never occurs to her to allow anyone to turn her into just a passive weapon in the insidious intrigues of that dishonorable, capricious world.

Ophelia will have to learn to be better than each of them in small and large games of seduction and hiding, tactics and trading, careful selection of allies and enemies. How will she succeed when one of the powers she possesses lies in the fact that she is able to openly and directly look at her reflection in the mirror and recognize and accept the person she sees there?

Although Christelle Dabos managed to publish the first book of this tetralogy in France back in 2013, the English translation was published only last year. Readers’ enthusiasm for this book and its popularity have only grown since then.

In the same sentence in which I first heard about this book, I also read that it predicted success equal to that experienced by Harry Potter – a statement to which all my skeptical lights and alarms light up! Still, a book that has such a high rating on Goodreads could not be ignored and I had to order the book, to see for myself the justification or unjustification of such statements.

So, what is my verdict? I don’t know if the author will be able to approach the fame of the little wizard – I don’t know what she is ready for us in the next four books, but I know that this is a series that will not go unnoticed. It should not go unnoticed. I read somewhere that someone described the genre of this book as a “fantasy-thriller” and I think that’s a perfect description.

The world is very carefully designed, the characters are incredibly intriguing, fresh and complicated, the subtle magic is compelling and interesting, the intrigues and plots are not at all shy and environmental, and Christelle Dabos writes as if this is not her first book. With her imagination, though not her writing style (hers is not so poetic), Dabos reminds me from afar of Laini Taylor – I wish she would continue to write and continue to grow creatively in just that direction.

Although the series is described as a fantasy-thriller, in this first part of the book this “thriller” part is more pronounced – that’s why it is read without a break and respite, and that’s why, after reading, she curses herself for not learning French in time, that one does not have to wait for the English translation of all the other sequels.

Fortunately, the second part of the tetralogy, which will be called “The Missing of Clairedelune,” is already out there and I can’t wait to go back to that crazy, wild world and watch Ophelia’s transformation into a being capable of surviving among these beautiful, bloodthirsty wolves.

I don’t know if I will be able to recommend the whole series to you – I will know when I read it, but I can sincerely recommend this first book to you. After all, she proudly and deservedly placed herself on my list of the best books read in 2020. I can tell you that this year was one of the best reading years in my life. I have read so many wonderful books and many of them I did share with you all.

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