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The Winter Queen
Devin Cary
Ace Books, 282 pages


Jon Sullivan
The Winter Queen
Devin Cary
Devin Cary is a pen name of Cary Osborne, author of the Iroshi and Deathweave series, also from Ace. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Cary Osborne Website
ISFDB Bibliography -- Cary Osborne
ISFDB Bibliography -- Devin Cary
SF Site Review: Darkloom

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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With his dying breath, King Ethelred of Albor designates his young wife Elissa as regent for his son, Prince Edgar. In a land where women are regarded as inferior creatures, good only for birthing babies, and a long-standing law prohibits a woman from ever ascending to the throne, this is a shocking choice. The lords of the Privy Council, outraged, begin immediately to plot how to prevent the king's decree from coming to pass.

But they haven't reckoned on Elissa, who is much more spirited and capable than anyone imagines. When one of the lords attempts to kidnap her children, with the aim of forcing a marriage between his daughter and Prince Edgar, Elissa becomes determined to fight for the regency, in order to protect Edgar and ensure that he will indeed become King. She enlists the aid of Geoffrey, the King's marshal, who was Ethelred's dear friend and, despite grave doubts, considers himself honour-bound to see that the King's last order is fulfilled.

But in her initial desperation after her husband's death, Elissa made a terrible mistake that, if discovered, would be regarded as treason. Now one of the hostile lords has gotten hold of her secret, and is trying to use it to blackmail her. As if that were not enough, she must contend with treachery within her household, the threat of war, and accusations of witchcraft that come closer to the truth than anyone knows. For Elissa has magical powers, carefully kept hidden even from her former husband. They may be the only thing that can save her -- if, that is, she can learn to control them.

The setting of The Winter Queen is generic medieval, and in places suffers from shallowness of detail. Nevertheless, the first part of the book is very engaging -- an involving narrative of a woman left alone in a man's world, with nothing but her will, her wits, and the grudging respect of an uncertain ally to protect her. Elissa is an appealing, plucky character, with believable motivations. The process by which she acquires strength and knowledge, and learns to match the devious lords at their own game, is well-rendered, as are her very understandable doubts and regrets. Cary does an especially good job with the political intrigue Elissa must confront, from the scheming religious leader, Dathan, who wants her declared a witch, to Lord Randall, who thinks to break her will by raping her.

But two-thirds of the way through, the focus switches from politics to action, and the book falls apart. Character-building -- until now carefully nuanced -- vanishes. The plot becomes disjointed, with unconvincing scenes and awkward transitions. The writing loses its flow, acquiring a flat and perfunctory quality. Weakest of all is the ending, which posits a personality change in Elissa totally unsupported by previous events, and finishes so abruptly one might almost think the printer left out the final chapter.

I would really like to know what happened to this last part of the book, which reads so differently from the first that it's almost as if it were penned by another person. Did Cary come up against a deadline? Did she simply lose interest? Whatever the explanation, it's a shame. The Winter Queen's fine beginning deserved a much better conclusion.

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.


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