Book review · novel

Book review: A Winter’s Promise

A Winter’s Promise (The Mirror Visitor #1), by Christelle Dabos, translated by Hildegarde Serle

a winter's promise coverSynopsis: (from the book’s website, from Europa Editions)

Lose yourself in the world of the arks and in the company of an unforgettable character in this French runaway hit by debut author Christelle Dabos.

A Winter’s Promise, the first installment in the Mirror Visitor Quartet, introduces readers to a remarkable heroine and to the richly imagined universe of the arks: floating celestial islands governed by the spirits of immortal ancestors.

Ophelia, a mix of awkward misfit and misunderstood genius, possesses two special gifts: an unrivaled talent for reading the past of objects and the ability to travel through mirrors. Her peaceful existence on the ark of Anima is interrupted when she is promised in marriage to Thorn, a taciturn and influential member of a powerful clan from a distant ark, the cold and icy Pole. Ophelia must follow her fiancé to the towering city of Citaceleste, where nobody can be trusted. There, in the company of her inscrutable future husband, Ophelia slowly realizes that she is a pawn in a political game that will have far-reaching ramifications not only for her but for her entire world.

A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher. 

Can you imagine the feeling when one of your favourite book from a few years past, published in a genre and language that doesn’t often gets a chance to be translated to english, gets such an annoucement ? I was ecstatic.

The author said in interviews and her website that she draws inspiration from Alice in Wonderland and the Ghibli aesthetic (mostly Howl’s Moving Castle) among others, and it’s really one of my favourite aspect of the novel. The world also feels like a mix between La Belle Epoque and Versaille-like court with a steampunk vibe going on (x and x.)
To that, magic also adds on with a main character going through mirrors, able to ‘read’ objects with her hands, an alernate Earth that exploded in pieces ages ago, each pieces (called arks) having different families, societies and powers…

Coming from a life and place of habits, comfort and warmth, Ophelia is torn from everything she knows to be wed to a man from a faraway ark. She will have to learn the hierarchy and power plays at court and in this other society.
One thing to note is that this is not a world kind to women, Ophelia still being unwed is a disappointment to her family, and a lot of the women encountered during the novel are seen as mean, violent, cheaters, deeply flawed individuals (not different for men.) There are exceptions, but the world Ophelia enters is a very harsh one, if not aesthetically gorgeous.

Maybe a little bit spoilery but I remember upon my first read back in 2013 that I did not understand how the relationship between Ophelia and Thorn developed because of how little interactions they have and how he is not a very big character in this novel after all. I don’t normally root for the kind of character he is, very cold and seemingly uncaring, but it did work for me in the end.
Ophelia grows a lot as a character and as a person during this book, and a thing I liked a lot was how the relationship between her and her aunt grows as well. While they start of as relative without too much warmth toward each other, and Ophelia being an introverted person who doesn’t seem too attached to her family in the beginning, we quickly see them growing closer and Roseline being protective of Ophelia, taking her role of chaperone very seriously. With so many dangerous characters around them, it is a relief to see those two counting on each other and protecting one another.

The first half of the novel is a bit slow and introduces the reader to the world, the mood of the novel and the characters, while the second half dive into the serious things, has a bit of a change of scenery and more characters enter the spotlight.

There are some obvious changes in the translated text, the french patoit disappears, Ophelie becomes Ophelia and other names with meanings change as well. But all in all the translation doesn’t have anything egregious and it was a really nice reading experience for me. Having had to read some french translations that totally butchered the original text, I was really happy to see the care and effort that went into this one. A funny touch that fans will notice is how the translator shares a name with a minor character!

content warning: violence, mention of domestic violence, torture, mention of suicide, rape threat

Since this book’s universe is so vivid and immersive, here’s a little pinterest board I made while re-reading:

6 thoughts on “Book review: A Winter’s Promise

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