Winter Lord: Old-school faeries with teeth

Winter Lord by Jean Brooks-Janowiak science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWinter Lord by Jean Brooks-Janowiak science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWinter Lord by Jean Brooks-Janowiak

Winter Lord (1983) was an impulse Alibris buy for me. Under a different name, Jean Brooks-Janowiak wrote a Tudor romance that’s been one of my comfort reads since I first read it in high school. That book had an eerie little vein of the supernatural running through it, so when I learned that Brooks-Janowiak had also written a fantasy novel, I decided to check it out. What with it being an earlier book, in a different genre, and sporting a rather uninformative cover, I went in with no idea of what to expect. As it turns out, I enjoyed it quite a bit, though with some caveats.

Jane O’Neill travels to the remote town of Winterburn, with her brother Brian and their friend Audrey, to attend the funeral of her ex-husband, Rob, who has drowned there under mysterious circumstances. Found with him were his ruined camera and a note with a cryptic quote from H. Rider Haggard. At the funeral, Jane meets glamorous Moira Daoine, who was once Rob’s lover, and her equally gorgeous brother Finn. When Jane and company are invited to tea at the Daoines’ house, and subsequently snowed in there, they are drawn into a seductive and dangerous world.

It’s not just that Moira and Finn are sexy. There are also the lushly described furnishings and food, which really made me want to visit this house even though I’m sure it would get me killed somehow. (Probably by the carnivorous horses. Yes, carnivorous horses. Scary critters.) But Moira and Finn are definitely sexy. They exert a powerful influence over people. Anyone who gets involved with them first experiences a burst of creativity, then meets an untimely end. Brian becomes entangled with Moira, and Jane with Finn, even though she knows it’s a terrible idea. And Finn is secretly working toward a goal that will put both him and Jane in great danger.

What follows is an escalation of tension as Jane finds Finn harder and harder to extricate from her life, and must figure out what’s going on — and what she wants to do about it — before it results in her death, or Brian’s, or Finn’s. The settings, both the opulent ones and the creepy ones, are vividly brought to life.

At 184 pages, Winter Lord is written pretty economically. Everything that doesn’t connect to the main plot is lightly sketched in; I still don’t know a lot about Jane’s difficult parents or what her company does, and I’m not sure we even find out what state Winterburn is in. This mostly works in the book’s favor, because it creates the sense that everything outside of the Daoine drama is fading into the background of Jane’s life, like the uncanny happenings with that family are the only things that are “real.”

It’s dated in some ways. There’s the obvious stuff, like the lack of cell phones and Internet, and there’s also Jane’s love of driving gloves. The biggest thing, though, is the amount of physical fighting that happens between Jane and Finn. They both hit each other. This was, I think, more common in the romance novels of the 70s and early 80s, but was jarring to me in 2020. This isn’t really a healthy relationship. Obsessive, weird, steamy, interesting to read about, yes — but definitely not what I’d want in real life.

The other caveat is that the copyediting is kind of a mess. There are typos, time jumps without line breaks, and a couple of points where sentences are printed out of order. It can take a moment to reorient yourself when you run into one of these.

Winter Lord is hard to categorize. Fantasy/horror/romance? Whatever it is, it’s a darkly intriguing novel, and not a big time commitment. If you like stories of the old-school faeries with teeth, and you happen to spot a copy at the used bookstore, it’s worth a try.

Published in 1983. On investigating the strange death of her ex-husband, Rob, a young businesswoman realizes her own life is in jeopardy as she clashes with Moira Daoine, the flame-haired beauty who had possessed Rob body and soul. Rob had discovered the unholy truth about the Daoines and paid the hellish penalty. As Jane realizes she’s fallen under the spell of Moira’s brother, Finn Daoine, she steps into a world of godlike beings and demonic forces that no mere mortal was meant to enter… 

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. Jana Nyman /

    This one reminds me of other, definitely dated, paranormal/romance novels I’ve read from that era — all of which make me really glad expectations have shifted, both in terms of the fiction market and social standards. (But I must admit that I’ve always thought driving gloves to be very chic!)

    • Kelly Lasiter /

      Yes! I’ve been procrastinating a review of another book from the 80s I’ve read recently, and everybody hits each other in that one too! And this is in couples I think I’m supposed to be rooting for! You still see it now, but usually just from the bad guys. And the same thing in real life; it still happens, but we’re not supposed to just think it’s OK.

      Maybe we should bring back driving gloves!

      • Jana Nyman /

        Abolish domestic abuse AND bring back driving gloves! Yes!

        • Kelly Lasiter /

          Jana for president!

          • Jana Nyman /

            Oh, that would be a terrible idea, haha. How about my dog instead?

          • Kelly Lasiter /

            Oh, I’m all in favor of a canine president. Naps and treatos for all!

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