A Winter’s Promise, by Christelle Dabos, published by Europa Editions, is the first part of”The Mirror Visitor Quartet” series. It introduces readers to not only the world the series is set in, but the characters as well. It also sets the stage for all that is to come in the next three books in the sequence.
Our leading lady Ophelia is an odd duck. She’s different from the rest of her family, not just in appearance but in her abilities. While all Animas – she lives on the ark called Anima which is ruled over by the family spirit Artemis – have the ability to make inanimate objects move to an extent, she also has the talent to read them. This means she can hold an object and tell you about all those who had touched it previously and what they were feeling at the time.
Oh, and she can also transport herself through mirrors. As long as she has seen herself in a mirror – any mirror anywhere – she can travel to it from another mirror. A fiercely independent young woman, she’s refused to consider two of the marriages her mother has arranged for her and runs a historical museum, A Winter’s Promise begins with her receiving the shocking news that not only has a third marriage been arranged for her, but a, she can’t refuse it because the ruling council of the ark has arranged it, and b, it is a diplomatic marriage as she will be sent to live on the ark called The Pole – halfway across the world.
As the story unfolds Dabos gradually reveals to us more and more information about the world Ophelia inhabits. Like a time release photograph the picture develops slowly, but this allows us to appreciate it even more. We learn that at some point in the past a calamity happened and the land masses were split into various arks scattered throughout the world. This event is referred to as The Rupture.
At some point the people occupying the world had been extremely warlike and somehow or other a major conflict led to this rupture. Each of the arks is ruled by what’s known as a Family Spirit. These figures are somewhat removed and distant from their populations and are treated with the reverence normally associated with royalty or even a minor deity.
The other thing we find out is that technology on this planet is a strange combination that mixes magical abilities with late 19th and early 20th century science. For instance Ophelia travels from Animas to The Pole by Zeppelin. On The Pole she not only meets her fiancé’s extended family, and other families, but discovers the various powers each family group possesses.
The social structure on The Pole is also notably different than that of Animas as the people are divided by class and ability. There is a ruling class who gravitate around the Family Spirt, Lord Farouk, and everyone else. Ophelia isn’t used to this type of demarcation of classes as it doesn’t exist on Animas.
However, no matter how difficult it is to adjust to these new realities her fiancé Thorn is the biggest difficulty. Cold and distant he seems to have as little interest in the marriage as Ophelia. While that is a plus in someways it also leaves her very much alone aside from the great-aunt who has been sent along as her chaperone.
Dabos does an excellent job of developing both her characters and the environments they move through. While we don’t spent a great deal of time on Animas, we have enough information to appreciate the culture shock Ophelia experiences while she tries to accustom herself to life in this new ark.
She also has to learn how to deal with the petty, and not so petty, jealousies of the court and work out why somebody wants her dead in order to prevent her from marrying Thorn. This mystery only deepens as she finds out more about her fiancé, The Pole, and the rivalries between the various families.
A Winter’s Promise is an excellently written novel and Dabos does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into the world she has created. Ophelia is a compelling and lovely character. Both bumbling – she’s incredibly clumsy, forever dropping or breaking items – and intelligent. Fiercely independent she often finds herself in trouble because she decides to take matters into her own hands instead of doing what she’s supposed to do.
A Winter’s Promise is an alluring and intriguing introduction to what promises to be a fascinating series.