Introducing another surprise hit for 2022, Ed McDonald’s Daughter of Redwinter. I have read McDonald’s other fantasy series, Raven’s Mark, and enjoyed myself greatly. There was definitely room for improvement, but the core of his last series was great (you can find reviews about it here) and McDonald has a real talent for bringing life to dead corrupted settings. Now we have the first book in his new series and Redwinter has all the strengths of his previous writing and addresses a number of the problems that weighed down my enjoyment. All of this results in a story that is part grim fantasy, part horror, and part magical school that made a lasting positive impact.
Buckle in, because we have a lot of plot to talk about. Our protagonist and sole POV is Raine, a rather unlucky woman who starts the book as a member of a cult. She is using the cult for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that the cult is camouflaging her unique magical power – she can speak to the dead. In the world of Redwinter those that can speak to the dead once enslaved the world with undead soldiers; so they are killed on sight the instant that any of them are discovered. This becomes an increasingly dangerous issue for Raine when the cult accidentally revives an undead tyrant and a group of magical police/knights are called in to purge the tyrant and the cult.
As the sole survivor of the purge, she is adopted by this group from Redwinter and taken back to their magical school/stronghold to potentially enroll as an apprentice. However, when she is deemed not to have an aptitude, she instead becomes a servant of the household. Here she decides to try and live a quiet and safe life free of discovery. But, as mysteries begin to multiply in Redwinter, and outside groups try to recruit her for espionage, things start to get complicated very quickly. Can Raine sort out what is going on while keeping her necromantic secret under wraps?
There are three strengths to Redwinter that all are independently bringing a lot to the table. The first is the plot. The mysteries of the story are very compelling and I found myself reading past my bedtime to find just one more clue. Raine is thrust into the Redwinter stronghold with no connections and is immediately surrounded by people of questionable morals and numerous plots. Figuring out which plot matches with who, the motivations behind them, and how to stop the ones personally threatening her is an exercise in madness in the best possible way.
The next powerhouse is the setting. I am a well-known lover of magical schools as settings, but I particularly love that Raine is recruited as a servant of the school instead of your typical gifted recruit. It sets her apart from the machinations of the apprentices and puts her in a lonely and unique position within the story. She is the perfect window into mysteries for the reader and a great way to naturally control my access to information. McDonald brings his talents for creepy worlds to the page and Redwinter is a disturbing hotbed of magic and competitive noble houses. Plus, add in more cults, strange magical creatures, and a magic system that feels like the tip of an iceberg and you create a compelling world to explore.
Both the setting and the plot work together to craft a dark and fun book to explore, but there is also the element of the characters and their relationships that add dimensions to the story. Raine enters the Redwinter compound with few connections. Given the clear plots that litter the ‘school’, as well as her deadly secret, Raine must be very careful with who she aligns herself with. Enter a rogues’ gallery of interesting and complicated mentors and apprentices that are all potential allies and possible suspects. I found myself obsessively examining the motives and reasoning of every character and repeatedly rebuilding my web of suspicions with each chapter. It is a maddeningly fun time, especially since the characters have a vibrant variety that makes them incredibly memorable.
The book only had one drawback in my mind, which is that it can sometimes feel a bit unpolished in the prose and pacing areas. I think this is partially due to McDonald’s writing style, but I appreciate clear and direct prose in a mystery such as this and I found myself having to reread sections to fully grasp the nuances in certain chapters.
Daughter of Redwinter rocks. It would have earned a recommendation off of just one of its strong elements, and the combination of all of them makes it a must-read for the year. The story contained in book one of this series tells a satisfying tale from start to finish and sets up enormous potential for the rest of the series. I can’t wait to see where McDonald takes the story next.
Rating: Daughter of Redwinter – 9.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.