A teenager discovers they have magic abilities and joins a group with the same abilities hoping to learn from them. Sound familiar? Yet, The Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald is anything but that simple. It is a story with those elements, but so is it a tale of the class divide, finding a place to belong, and reflecting and knowing yourself. Raine has the grave-sight, the ability to see the spirits of the dead, an ability that would get her killed should anyone know. The Draoihn is a group of people who are not only from renowned clans of their nation but can open what they call gates that give them otherworldly abilities, each gate unlocking different ones of varying strength. The two immediately collide to dramatic effect that will find Raine with the Draoihn’s company and living in Redwinter, their home.
Right away, Raine’s current situation is high intensity, hooking you. She joined up with a cult of soothsayer sisters under siege in an old monastery by people who believe the sisters’ have the grave-sight because of Raine. While following a spirit through a hidden path out of the monastery where they might escape, she discovers an injured young woman chased by two people with abilities she has never seen before. After a series of tragic, traumatic, and supernatural events, Raine finds herself in Redwinter, home of the Draoihn, where she finds a life for herself. In the beginning, there were a few alarm bells that had me worried. Raine, seventeen years of age, was dating a man named Braithe, twice her age, who she had feelings for since she was thirteen. After he hits her for bringing the injured girl into the monastery, worried about their survival, Raine’s inner monologue implies that it wasn’t the first time. The word grooming is never said, but there is ample evidence in the text to draw that conclusion, as this also hovered around a cult of conwomen and fake soothsayers. However, the situation resolves with Raine realizing the kind of person Braithe truly is and what she is in his eyes. My worries were resolved, knowing Braithe’s future had nothing but suffering in it, and their relationship would no longer be a part of this book. How quickly this is introduced but isn’t romanticized and doesn’t stick around shows Raine’s uneasy life so far, even before the inciting incident that tragically leads her to Redwinter.
After the siege and the incident beneath the monastery is when the book takes off—slowly being introduced to the world of the Draoihn as she recovers from her experience. On the road to Redwinter, the difference between Raine and her Draoihn companions slowly becomes apparent, especially regarding the apprentice and heir to Clan LacNaithe, Ovitus, despite their relative age. As they come to Redwinter, Raine feels the metaphorical and literal divide between her and the Draoihn. They believe that what they protect, a source of power they call the Crown, supposedly created everything, and thus the Draoihn put themselves over all other life to defend it. Likewise, many of the Draoihn seen in this book are part of or join economically powerful clans, so are not only their actions above other people but also their status. This divide is seen throughout the book, such as the fact that Ovitus does not know the names of any of his servants or how many Draoihn, even those apprentices who came from nothing, treat Raine differently than they would have if she were one of them. This mixing of an economic divide with the divide in power of the Draoihn versus others is so well done by both Raine and us, the readers asking ourselves whether the Draoihn are truly good or not.
It often seems that when teenagers written in fantasy tend to stop acting like a teenager when the grander conflict begins to happen, and they need to step up as if teenagers can’t act like teenagers and still be whatever archetype or role is meant for the book. McDonald never strays away from Raine and the apprentices she meets and befriends from acting their age. They have doubts about their future. They make foolish decisions. They think they know everything when they do not. They don’t know what to do about their feelings for another person, especially when those feelings would not be accepted by the religion of their society. Raine finds a place with the other teenagers, yet she isn’t one of them. She makes friends with many of Clan LacNaithe’s apprentices, but their status is above hers. She is with them but separate from them, becoming a large part of Raine’s internal and external struggle. Her being able to see the spirits of the dead is a taboo that could get her killed should any of them, including her newly made friends, find out. Typical teenage behavior is seen throughout the novel, even when their lives are in danger. Ovitus is a prime example. Without spoiling it, I guarantee many who read this book have known the kind of idiotic teenage boy the LacNaithe heir appears to be in this book.
There are often moments of self-reflection from Raine in the book, and I appreciate that in a protagonist. It seems in character, both for her age and the experiences, traumatic or otherwise, that she has survived. Because of her ability to see the dead, running from home to join a cult of charlatan sisters, and the incident beneath the monstery, Raine has built many strong walls and self-defense mechanisms. The Daughter of Redwinter is not only about Raine’s journey but how she learns to balance protecting herself and opening up. The self-reflection goes hand in hand with the novel’s worldbuilding. It is all through Raine’s eyes, as she is the one telling us this story, and McDonald does not waste any words building that world that would take us out of the book. In other words, the worldbuilding important to Raine is also essential to us, the reader. Such as the case for example, when she is on the road to Redwinter grieving for what had happened in the Dalnese Monastery. She is broken from grief, so even though she travels and learns about new places, it’s not crucial to her and, therefore, not essential to us. That is until it is vital information to Raine later, and consequently, we can look back and realize how the author gave us that worldbuilding without it bogging down Raine’s emotional journey.
Endings that seem so obvious in hindsight are highly enjoyable. The Legend of Zelda puzzle-solving sound effect occurs in your brain moments before or after the protagonists figure it out. The clues were all there, leading to the book’s climax, but McDonald has you so invested in Raine’s struggle with her place with the Clan LacNaithe that the author can slip them all past you. A substantial part of the story is seeing Raine going from broken, uncaring, and in emotional pain to finding a life, friends, and belief in herself to make the right decisions in the end. We’ll have to wait until the next book to see how those decisions will affect her future, but I am highly looking forward to it.
Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Tor books.
Please consider buying the reviewer a coffee.
Follow Joshua MacDougall @FourofFiveWits on Twitter.