The Winter Witch is an urban fantasy set in a rural and rustic Welsh setting. The Welsh culture and language was something that drew me to this book, offering the reader an insight into one of the world’s colonized and forgotten ways of life thanks to their tyrannical neighbours the English. However, this was as far as I got with finding something positive to take away from my reading experience. The premise offers so my potential for a great read, however, falls flat on its face by sacrificing decent plot and character developments in favour of a lacklustre love story and even more drab pacing.
The story follows Morgana, a woman recently married to a stranger, all of which was arranged by her new husband and her mother. Her husband desired a wife in order to inherit his family business. Morgana doesn’t speak, ever, not since her father died when she was a child. The reader is teased with her special abilities, because why on earth would we want to read about someone normal. This isn’t a big pet peeve, after all its an urban fantasy, but the reader is led to believe she is exceptional, all the animals love her, but Morgana does nothing in the first two-thirds of the book to back up this claim.
This is where the pacing really damages the potential for this book. So many chapters are wasted on tedious scenes where nothing happens other than Morgana and Cai feeling awkward around each other and not fully communicating how they felt. As I reached the halfway mark I wondered where on earth this book was going.
Another pitfall was the typical and overused archetypes pitting women against each other for the sake of it. Morgana dislikes her rich, charismatic and beautiful neighbour instantly. She has no reason to hat this woman but her own narrative justifies the fact that she is a beautiful woman and her husband Cai is friends with her as enough reason to have a lifelong vendetta against her. I understand what the author was trying to do. She is, in fact, the villain in this story, however, the shallow and stereotypical reasons for the initial dislike are something we need to move away from in literature. After all, Morgana was married to Cai, why is she so easily threatened by the presence of another woman.
There is something about her, something about this handsome, confident woman that I do not like.
This was a trend in this book, the rampant anti-woman (apart from special snowflake Morgana) agenda the narrative argued.
Does he consider me so feeble, so fragile as to require assistance to step over a small pile of stones?…It is not entirely unreasonable he should imagine me to be so…female.
Morgana constantly affirms the weakness of femininity by trying to convince herself and the reader that she is stronger and more capable. Unfortunately, this particular reader was not convinced. Strength comes in many different forms. Being able to ride a saddleless horse doesn’t mean you are stronger than a woman who cannot, it only means you can do something she can’t and vice-versa.
Another irksome trend was the marriage and sex aspect of the book. It infuriates me as a reader of historical fiction when authors lazily employ the gothic trope of the tyrannical, rape driven husband and forced marriage. Morgana constantly drones on about Cai’s rights as a husband as if she expects him to rape her whenever he pleases. She doesn’t word it as rape, to her, it is his right to have sex with her even if she doesn’t want to. And because wonderful Cai doesn’t the reader is led to believe he is a swoon-worthy and considerate man; a perfect gentleman. However, Cai generally is a bland and unevocative, I honestly didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Throughout history, arranged marriages for convenience, financial gain and social rank were common. Not all were built on the presumption of sex. Many marriages happily remaining childless and built on mutual friendship. This is something that irks me about Jane Austen’s novels, this luxury of falling in love is not as common as we are led to believe. So if Cai’s intention was a wife to inherit his land, why is Morgana trying to find reasons to like him when his intention was just a convenient marriage to bypass the law. Henry VII mother married to gain political allies and never slept with her third husband.
The real story arch, or what the whole book should have been about, didn’t start until I was too far gone down the path of disliking to book no matter what happened at the end. Overall I think there were two story lines that should have been in two different books.