Daughter of Redwinter – by Ed McDonald (Review)

Redwinter Chronicles #1

Fantasy, Epic

Tor; June 28, 2022 (US)
Gollancz; June 30, 2022 (UK)

345 pages (ebook)

Goodreads • StoryGraph
Author Website • Socials

10 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orion & NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

Those who see the dead soon join them.

Seventeen year-old Raine knows what she wants out of life, and has it. A man that loves her, a life where she’s respected, a group she’s protected in so much that she almost feels loved. The only problem is that her new family is on the run and holed up in a decaying monastery—which has started widening the cracks in her perfect life.

Maybe her love isn’t so perfect. Braithe is great, but at twice her age he should know better. He yells and belittles and raises his hand to her far too often, to the point that Raine is starting to feel like nothing but a bedwarmer. Her perfect family is less than perfect as well. The sisters preach about the colors within, and their followers eat it up. But Raine isn’t a believer. In fact, she’s never felt like one of them less.

But her die is cast and her lot chosen. She’s with them to the death—especially since death is coming for them all.

In the form of a lost apprentice, hunted by her Draoihn brethren. One that Raine helps, and who repays her by trying to summon an ancient evil unto the world.

An evil Raine helps defeat, but only just. After which she is whisked off to Redwinter by the Draoihn pair, as a witness to the foiled end of the world plot. But after being spared certain death, Raine is now confronted by a probable and much worse end. For if they knew her secret—her ability to see and commune with the dead—these warrior mages would kill her in a much more spectacular and painful manner.

As she lingers in Redwinter, Raine finds more than she ever could’ve hoped, but far less than she might have dreamt of: a life, albeit not one she expected; friends, though they might turn on her if they ever found out her secret; power, though it’s temperamental and impossible to control; and a plot, one she’s got to get under control before it burns her new home down around her.

I began to have a life. It was not a life I had wanted, but it was the one I was living, and one cannot always swim against the tide.

Earlier this month I read a review from Rebecca over at Powder & Page, which proclaimed this as a potential book of the year candidate. Now, I thoroughly adored McDonald’s last series and was ecstatic to hear her praise. And even more excited, as the book did not disappoint.

Friendship is easy to claim and dangerous to test.

I thought I had this pegged as soon as we prevented the ancient evil from releasing itself on the world. I was wrong.

This was not a “teen discovers powers”, “teen goes to magic school”, “enter hijinx and tomfoolery and maybe the end of the world”, like I expected. Sure, it has many of those characteristics—so many that it really looks like it’s going to follow the same pattern. And then the plot takes a left turn. Even further on, when I thought we’d fallen back into the original pattern—it takes another abrupt turn. I’m not going to spoil either of these, but they’re as surprising as they are entertaining, and—better yet—they work really well. The twists may not be world-changing, but they do just enough to change the story while keeping the pace and flow intact.

Raine is an excellent character. She’s young and foolish. She’s clever and witty. She’s pessimistic but hopeful. She has darkness within her, but light as well. She’s… human. Well designed, well portrayed, well written. She’s by far the strongest character, though the others are well written as well. Often profoundly so. Ovitus was among one of my favorite characters just for his sheer complexity. He’s not a particularly… charming character, though he does have something about him that makes him appealing. He’s just so interesting—especially in how he interacts with the world, the other characters, Raine herself—that he’s a fascinating character to read. Raine was by far my favorite, though a few of the others grew on me over the story’s course.

What else do I really have to say about this? Well, not too much as it turns out. I could rave about how well everything is done or about how much I loved every bit of it, but sadly I don’t think this would be enough. The only thing I can really do is tell you to read it, and recommend it whole-heartedly.


Not much to say here, except that Daughter of Redwinter continues Ed McDonald’s strong course of written works. I won’t even bore you by recapping the details. Everything was strong, in my opinion. A great world, great characters, story, blah blah blah. This is (very, very likely) my book of 2022 thus far. Go read it.

The Collarbound – by Rebecca Zahabi (Review)

Unnamed Sequence #1

Fantasy, High Fantasy

Gollancz; May 12, 2022 (UK/EU)
(US release TBA)

346 pages (ebook)

Author Website

7.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Orion Publishing for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

On the dark side of the Shadowpass, a rebellion is brewing. Refugees from the war have been flooding across, even now trickling into cities farther and farther from the border. On the edge of the world sits the Nest—built into the side of a cliff, it signifies the path to enlightenment and transcendence—home to a fortress full of mages, the polar opposite to everything the rebels stand for.

Equality, unity, everyone is provided for and given a voice: something the mages in the city are willing to die to avoid. The ungifted are accepted, though while they are judged according to their wealth, none will ever be equal to a mage. Lacuants—former mages who’ve had the magic burned out of them—are second-class citizens, pitied and tolerated as beggars. Kher aren’t even that much. Treated as animals, beasts of burden, they are despised and mistrusted—while being welcomed by the rebels with open arms. Halfbreeds are something worse.

Isha arrives as a refugee, brought to the Nest by a master mage in order to join the fortress academy. But while she may have blended in with the rest of the rabble, she’ll never fit in with the other mages. Kher tattoos brand her as an outcast, a halfbreed—something barely tolerated—though her magic define her as something else. Fleeing memories as much as the war, her past is a mystery even to her, though she’ll have to confront it sooner or later.

Tatters past haunts him daily. Marked by the golden collar of a slave, he flees something more tangible than Isha. Once a rebel, he knows there’s more to the war than unity and equality. An owned mage residing outside of the Nest, he trains students in mindbrawl for coin while existing in the shadows of society. And in the shadows he plans to remain.

But then Tatters meets Isha.

A human with a Kher brand; another wearing a collar of gold. One destined to be singled out her entire life; the other too far beneath to be noticed. But an unlikely bond forms between the two. Tatters is sure he’s seen her tattoo before, but can’t place it. Tatters is the key to something in her past, and Isha is desperate to learn. But as the rebellion carves its way towards the city, they are faced with an impossible choice between two evils.

The Collarbound didn’t start especially well.

It was slow, vague, a bit dull really. Featuring a unique take on magic—where mages engage in mindbrawls in order to dominate or control their foes, or even the common ungifted—that was certainly an interesting concept, but never really came together for me. There are no fireballs or explosions. No lights and sounds. Just scenes and images aimed at undermining their opponents’ thoughts. But at least it was something different; a good attempt.

The world is a bit sparse at the outset, as the reader is thrown in and expects to catch up. There really aren’t a whole lot of info-dumps—the lore and world-building simply percolate from the plot as the story progresses. Thus it takes a good 50-70 pages in order for things to really get rolling. About the time that the Kher make their way into the spotlight.

And everything takes off.

The Kher are a bit like humans crossed with kudu. Anthropomophic kudu. I mean, I pictured them as having dark, ebony skin, curling horns—maybe a bit like a tiefling. Can’t remember if that’s how the author described them or not. Doesn’t really matter when it comes down to it. They’re human enough that they can breed, and they’re instrumental in the story.

At the time, I noted that we really should’ve gotten into it with the Kher earlier. As dull as I found the mindbrawls, Kher society was what really made the book for me. While Tatters and Isha were initially brought together by the mindlinking, the Kher are what bind them. Afterwards we really get into the Kher story, the war, the rebels, the bind that ties Isha and Tatters. And the story takes off.

In the beginnings of the text we are presented with some vague notion of the rebels, the war—but these things are harder to care about at the time. The world was still new and vague. The war is far from the Nest. The rebels are small-time, but growing, all the while soaking the fields in blood. Rebels bad, mages good. The further the story progresses, the more interesting things get. The mages are still painted in a pleasing light on occasion, and the rebels routinely vilified. But the mages aren’t the saviors they’re made out to be at the start. Their treatment of the Khers, even the Lightborn—beings made of colored light that flit to and fro from across the Edge to the awe of the common folk—leaves a lot to be desired. But at least they’re not watering the country with the blood of farmers.

As the text progresses, the waters muddy. And the story impresses more and more. After the 30% mark I was fully invested. Despite that I never warmed up to the mindbrawl magic-system, I never had one more thought of abandoning the book. Like more than a few debut fantasies, there’s a good story within, it just takes a bit of time to get to it.

I hope that the sequel will get going from the outset, and that we warm the mindbrawl concept up a bit. With these two changes—we’d be looking at a much more immersive, interesting, and engrossing tale. The story continues in Book #2—the Eyas, currently TBA.