The Winter Prince

Author: Elizabeth E. Wein

Capable, strong, and intelligent though he is, Medraut will never be king of Britain, eldest son of the king though he be. His father’s mistake, and his own illegitimacy, haunt him . . . as do the deeper secret of his mother’s true relation to King Artos and the excruciating physical and psychological scars his mother has left on him. Worse yet, Medraut’s half-brother Lleu is so sure of himself and his position as the king’s heir and so cruel in his surety, despite his physical weakness and lack of skill in many areas in which Medraut excels. Placed in a position to either shelter and nourish his brother, or to harm him cruelly, can Medraut defy his own wounded pride?

What a complex and beautiful story. Elizabeth Wein’s name has been coming up a lot in connection with her more recent work, Code Name Verity, but I would say that The Winter Prince proves that she has been a talented author for quite some time. She takes the skeleton of the Arthurian legend of Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son by his sister Morgause, and fleshes it out into a haunting, moving historical novel. The descriptive prose sets the scene beautifully throughout as told through Medraut’s own eyes, and the complexities of the relationships and emotions of all the characters, but particularly between Medraut, Morgause, and Lleu are wrenching and thought-provokingly beautiful. I think the way the whole story is told in Medraut’s voice as addressed to Morgause is particularly effective in showing just how deep the scars she left on him are. I also greatly appreciate the surprise ending; it fits and makes me happy, is unexpected enough to be fresh, yet is wholly appropriate to the characters and plot. I would highly recommend The Winter Prince as a historical novel, as an Arthurian retelling, and as simply an incredible character study and psychologically involved novel.

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