A Winter’s Promise – Wonderland Delivered

A Winter's Promise Cover

I first encountered the French novel, A Winter’s Promise, in a hidden corner of a beloved bookstore in Reno, NV back in 2018. I had never heard of Christelle Dabos or seen this book’s beautiful cover before, but this story became one of my all-time favorites because I was completely unprepared for the magic within.

The world is made up of landmasses called arks which are ruled by giant, immortal, and magically imbued Family Spirits. Each ark is populated by individuals that possess a variety of related powers that define their hovering chunk of earth. Ophelia belongs to Anima, a cheery ark overrun with large families with big personalities and wildly active objects to match. Ophelia is a solitary creature who uses her powers as an object reader to manage the ark’s museum. At this point, she has evaded several arranged engagements with prospects on her ark, but Ophelia cannot say no to the latest proposal. A mysterious family from the Ark of the Pole has sought out Ophelia and arranged a marriage. With a duty to uphold, Ophelia will meet her future husband and become a chess piece in a game she never meant to play. 

Dabos is masterful with her worldbuilding. From the humble beginnings of Anima to the unknown horrors of the Pole, Dabos constantly dials up the sense of wonder. Each chapter was like unwrapping a gift, revealing both wanted and unwanted surprises. Dabos puts on a dazzling show, and it was fun to discover every little thing with Ophelia. I can’t say much or it will spoil your entire adventure, but the world we encounter in chapter one is wholly unrecognizable by the time we close the back cover. The arks are unique and the magic each one possesses is creative and unpredictable. Dabos sets us loose in a mysterious world run by power systems that the characters exploit in selfish ways. 

Ophelia is fascinating and is one of the most unique characters I have read. Even though she is demure and quiet in nature, Dabos makes her a commanding protagonist. Ophelia evolves beautifully throughout the story without becoming an entirely different person. And the growth she displays in this one book is outstanding. Dabos doesn’t hold back any punches regarding Ophelia’s hardships either. There are some brutal moments, and Ophelia constantly suffers in a fun house filled with vipers. Even though I like to think I am the badass heroine of my own story, in reality, I am Ophelia, and it was inspiring to see how this reserved woman made moves and had agency that stayed true to who she is at heart. 

Another standout element of A Winter’s Promise is the character relationships, and you’re going to have to work for them. You will triumphantly peel back one layer of a character, but Dabos will quickly button them back up again. Be patient because you will cycle through many emotions as you get to know the cast. For this reason, I anticipate some readers will be frustrated by the give and take between Ophelia and the supporting characters, but let me tell you, it’s worth it. Sit through the excruciating discomfort festering in Ophelia’s interactions with her husband-to-be. Roll your eyes at Ophelia’s aunt and find her incessant fussiness endearing. Savor the sanctuary and despair experienced with her new in-laws. Dabos does a beautiful job of making unlikeable characters super likable, and I couldn’t help but root for and empathize with them and their horrid ways. Everyone around Ophelia is deplorable, but we love them anyway because they were crafted by Dabos’ masterful hand. 

The awe I have for these characters and their story is just as strong the second time around. A Winter’s Promise is incredible and one of the best stumbled-upon books I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know many people who have picked up this book or talked about it for that matter. I decided to revisit this story to fix that, and I highly recommend you treat yourself to Christelle Dabos’ work.

Rating: A Winter’s Promise – 10/10


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