Book Review: Winter’s Maiden by Morgan L. Busse

Morgan Busse is an author who has come up numerous times over the years I’ve been in the online Christian writing world and a handful of her books have made it onto my TBR, but her upcoming Winter’s Maiden was the first of her books that inspired me to apply for an ARC. To my surprise, I got one, so today I’m here with my review!

(Required disclaimer that though I received a free copy to review, the following opinions are my own.)

What is Winter’s Maiden about?

Warrior. Survivor. Daughter of the North.

From the moment she is born, Brighid fights to survive in the wastelands of Nordica as a clanless one. But when a new power arrives offering a trial to join the Nordic warriors, Brighid enters, hoping to rise above her station. Soon she becomes one of their fiercest fighters and joins the war against the south.

Kaeden carries the blood of the ancient Eldaran race in his veins but turns away from his heritage after the death of his parents. Years later, he is called back to his homeland and invited to be a healer for the southern forces. With the help of an old mentor, the power inside of him starts to awaken. However, his life is turned upside down when a mighty warrior of the Nordic forces is captured.

As Kaeden interacts with the enemy, he discovers there is a darkness behind the Nordic Wars, one that is manipulating the people of the north. But who will believe him? And is there a power strong enough to break the hold of this hidden adversary? Or will the world burn in the flames of war?

The first few chapters of this book really hooked me. We’re introduced to Brighid and the midwife Elphsaba who takes her in, and the midwifery scenes were excellent. Very vividly written, powerful, and great for establishing the characters and some of Brighid’s abilities. Once that was all established and the story moved on, however, the writing seemed much less consistently vivid and the depth of the characters’ perspectives was largely lost. There seemed to be a lot more telling than showing in the style of the writing, with a lot of areas feeling skimmed-over and a lot of developments attributed to characters without seeming to be earned on the page.

There were a number of scenes that did feel very cinematic, like I could vividly imagine how they might have played out in a movie very well, but that fell a little flat on the emotions in writing. They had not only the same level of imagery as a movie scene, but also the same level of distance (in a book that seemed to be intended to have a deep POV).

The characters were interesting in concept and clearly had interesting struggles, but they weren’t as compelling on paper as I would have liked because it felt like there was so little depth to the way they were written. That said, they were interesting enough for me to follow through an entire book while I was in an overall reading slump, so the writing certainly could have treated them worse.

I did wish we saw more of Gurmund; I found his POV chapters to be some of the most compelling, after the first few chapters with Brighid, and I would have loved to see more of his struggle with the other hjars and how he handled that; it felt like he sort of disappeared after the halfway point.

Kaeden, meanwhile, was a large part of the reason I picked up this book in the first place–I was interested in his role as a healer and seeing that play out, plus he’s mentioned in 2/3rds of the blurb–but as I neared the halfway point and he hadn’t shown up I actually started to wonder if I had confused this with another book. He doesn’t enter the story until just past the halfway point, and I didn’t feel that he got the same sort of establishment to his character that Brighid did; his “refusal of the call” felt very inconsequential on multiple occasions and I would have liked to see more of his struggle play out with more meaningful reluctance along his arc, as well as meeting him earlier in the book. The elements of the world that are introduced with him, however, I found to be some of the most interesting of the book!

Sadly, the worldbuilding–another reason I was interested in Winter’s Maiden–fell prey to the same lack of depth in the writing; the world itself was interesting, but didn’t feel well-explored in the way it was written. I did enjoy the spiritual parallels employed and how they were portrayed, and Brighid’s abilities were always interesting to see. I would have been interested to see more about the core conflict of the story established before it became a full war, because the motivations felt unclear to me. But overall the plot made sense, even if it had its weak spots.

Overall, this was a fine read. It only took me a few days to read despite my reading slump, so it has that going for it, and I do think that conceptually it’s a great book; I just wish that the writing had put more flesh on those concepts.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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