Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, Epic Fantasy
Representation: Bisexual MC, sapphic love interest, very minor implied M/M
Published on: 24th October 2023
The second in Ed McDonald’s Chronicles of Redwinter, full of shady politics, militant monks, ancient powers... and a young woman navigating a world in which no one is quite what they seem.
The power of the Sixth Gate grows stronger within Raine each day—to control it, she needs lessons no living Draoihn can teach her. Her fledgling friendships are tested to breaking point as she tries to face what she has become, and her master Ulovar is struck by a mysterious sickness that slowly saps the vitality from his body, leaving Raine to face her growing darkness alone. There’s only one chance to turn the tide of power surging within her—to learn the secrets the Draoihn themselves purged from the world.
The book can teach her. She doesn’t know where she found it, or when exactly, but its ever changing pages whisper power that has lain untouched for centuries.
As the king’s health fails and the north suffers in the grip of famine, rebellious lords hunger for the power of the Crown, backed by powers that would see the Crowns undone. Amidst this growing threat, Raine’s former friend Ovitus brings a powerful new alliance, raising his status and power of his own. He professes support for the heir to the throne even as others would see him take it for himself, and desperately craves Raine’s forgiveness—or her submission.
But the grandmaster has her own plans for Raine, and the deadly training she has been given has not been conducted carelessly. In Raine she seeks to craft a weapon to launch right into her enemy’s heart, as Redwinter seeks to hold onto power.
Amidst threats old and new, Raine must learn the secrets promised by the book, magic promised by a queen with a crown of feathers. A queen to whom Raine has promised more than she can afford to give…
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~a very shiny horse
~secrets of death-magic
~arguably the Best villain ever
~still shipping my OT3
~the Heels (you’ll know them when you see them)
*Spoilers for book one, Daughter of Redwinter (reviewed here)!*
Daughter of Redwinter was a huge surprise for me on every level – it wasn’t a book I expected to be for me, but I fell head over heels for it, not least because of how much I identified with Raine, the main character. But the magically-induced emotional numbing Raine experienced for most of Daughter was ‘healed’ – kinda-sorta-mostly – at the end of that book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Traitor. Would I still care about Raine? Would I even like her? How would her ability to experience the full range of emotions again affect her relationships with her new family – to say nothing of her two love interests? Daughter ended with Raine and the mysterious Queen of Feathers being pretty pissed at each other – what ramifications was that going to have?
I can tell you this: a lot has changed between the two books. Daughter and Traitor are very different in a whole bunch of ways.
But I would say that’s because Traitor of Redwinter levels the fuck up in every aspect, and the results are incredible.
Daughter of Redwinter was a book that took me by surprise; Traitor is a book that is nothing but surprises. Absolutely nothing went the way I thought it would; I never saw the twists coming, spotted the clues only in hindsight, and everything I was sure of slipped through my fingers. Something I thought was a beautiful but ultimately meaningless moment from the first book literally saved the fucking day here; something I thought was McDonald leaning on a lazy cliche was MINDBLOWINGLY NOT; characters I wrote off revealed themselves to be the exact opposite of what I’d thought them to be – which meant something very different for each one of those characters. Everything I thought I didn’t like – little details in the tropes, the plot, the worldbuilding, the politics, the character dynamics, anything and everything – turned itself inside-out into something completely and ridiculously epic before the book was over, and honestly, I want to stand up and APPLAUD. I love how many tricks McDonald played on me; I love how he played me, over and over; I love how this story is patently not going in the direction we’d quite naturally expect.
Epic Fantasy? Oh, definitely. But not like you’ve seen it before – honest.
Traitor opens eight months after the end of Daughter, and I won’t lie, that bugged me. I’m not a fan of timeskips generally, and this one stretched the bounds of belief when it came to the romantic tension between Raine and her two love interests, Sanvaunt and Esther. It’s a little difficult to buy into the fact that all of that stalled for eight months, after how intense both relationships were becoming towards the end of the previous book. But on the one hand, we have both Raine and Esther’s hesitation and confusion over their sapphic feelings, in a world where that’s not commonly accepted; and on the other hand, Raine and Sanvaunt both had A Lot to deal with in the final chapters of Daughter, so…it’s just about possible to let it slide. Just.
they’d lit a fire to the sheet music, and now they danced to a burning tune.
Especially because that’s really my only critique of anything in the book. And we dive right in immediately; Raine, with a fair bit more control over her sixth gate than she had when last we saw her, is being sent as part of a sort of ambassadorial party with several other apprentice Draoihn to (politely, not violently) deal with a rebel Draoihn lordling. Who, to be honest, has some pretty good reasoning for telling Redwinter to fuck off. Where Daughter of Redwinter gave us a tight, narrow focus on Raine and Redwinter itself, Traitor zooms out, giving us a much bigger, and clearer, understanding of Raine’s world. The politics of her country Harran, and its north/south divide, is one of the major driving forces of the plot; as are the not-always-so-distant schemes of their overlords in Brannlant. (Though don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t a book for fans of political intrigue. Raine is too blunt of an instrument, much as I love her, to be the star of a story that’s all politicking and intrigue and diplomacy.) We even get glimpses of some very far-away lands indeed, mostly through some of Raine’s expatriate teachers, but once through a very interesting choice of military fashion.
Our view of Raine’s world doesn’t just widen; it deepens. We learn a lot more about the dreaded Sixth Gate in this book, and its connection to the other gates…but what startled and interested me most was how much Raine’s relationship to the Queen of Feathers changed from the last book. Some of the things she says; some of the visions/dreams Raine has; some of the ways the two interact forced me to toss out all of my theories about who and what the Queen is…and the new ones have been keeping me up at nights.
I NEED ANSWERS SO BADLY!
For many people, their greatest weakness lies in not wanting to make a fuss.
Traitor of Redwinter is a bit of a contradiction; in many ways it’s an absolutely delicious power-fantasy, wherein Raine is growing into her powers and discovering her own deadliness. But it’s also like watching a train crash, because Raine is self-destructing even as she rises, self-sabotaging even as she claims her power. It’s hypnotic; morbidly fascinating, but also a rush; and you genuinely can’t tell whether or not you should be rooting for her. Is she good? Even if her motivations are, can the powers she has ever be used for good, or do the ends justify the means? Arguably my joint-favourite theme of Traitor is Raine’s approach to power, the thinking she does on the nature of power and law and rules and who they apply to, the advice she seeks out on the topic (or doesn’t seek out, but receives nonetheless), and the conclusions she comes to. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come to a conclusion quickly, and that she’s not afraid to change her mind when new experiences and perspectives make their case. It felt like very natural growth, and at the same time, like McDonald was making points to the reader that I’ve never seen or heard anyone else make before.
I’m very much inclined to agree with his final verdict, personally.
those thoughts sounded like echoes within my own mind. The voice of some other girl, an earlier conception of me. I may have still looked like that girl, though my body might have become harder. I might have still sounded like that girl, though my words have grown jaded. But I didn’t kill like that girl, not anymore, and if you brushed away the old dead skin then beneath her lay a different beast.
My other joint-favourite theme is… I don’t know whether to call it The Villain Reveal, or the feminism, because honestly, it’s both those things together? And I really can’t talk about the villain, obviously, except that YES, and FUCK YES, and I have been WAITING for more villains like this (I can literally only name two others across all the media I have ever consumed who fit this personality/character type) and THANK YOU, McDonald, for pulling absolutely no punches on this.
SO MUCH YES.
Men are always able to believe their own narrative when it comes to hurting women, no matter how absurd.
I mean – the RAGE I felt. Traitor gave me a lot of emotions, but the emotions around the villain – ARGH. And the villainry is tied so much into misogyny, it’s such a fundamental aspect of this person’s Villainous Nature, and the horrible thing is that it’s so fucking FAMILIAR. If you’re a woman or femme or AFAB, you’ve dealt with this kind of person, and if you don’t want to claw their eyes out you’re a better person than me, and I am a little bit shocked that a male author wrote this so well. There’s a bit of a running joke that (some) men really can’t write women (feel free to enjoy this subreddit, or just some highlights) but if I had any doubts about McDonald after Daughter (and I didn’t), Traitor would have atomised them.
It’s a relatively small part of the book, but the way McDonald writes women dealing with men – especially not-great men – just. Really, really impressed me.
I CAN THINK OF SOME OTHER AUTHORS WHO SHOULD MAYBE TAKE NOTES.
I was the enemy of the entire world, they just didn’t know it yet.
It’s probably appropriate to end this review by telling you that the book’s ending BLEW ME AWAY and DELIGHTED ME UTTERLY, and left me still holding out hope for a polyamorous endgame between Raine, Esther and Sanvaunt – if the two of them can ever convince her she deserves nice things. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. But either way, I am RABID for the next book, and I challenge anyone NOT to be after reading Traitor of Redwinter!
You still have time to preorder – it releases this week and you REALLY SHOULDN’T MISS IT!