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Winterwood
by Jacey Bedford
DAW, $7.99, 432pp
Published: February 2016

Winterwood is the first book in the Rowankind series. This book is a fantasy novel filled with magic, fairies, shapeshifters and ghosts. What??? That's not enough for you? There is also adventure, history, romance and, yes, even sea battles with swashbuckling pirates!

Set in Britain at the time of King George III, Winterwood tells the tale of Rossalinde Tremayne. Ross, as she's called, was treated with hostility by her mother when she started showing signs that she has magic abilities. Seven years ago she eloped with privateer captain Will Tremayne along with the Heart of Oak, the ship meant as her dowry, and Ross’ mother hasn’t forgiven her since. Now Will has been dead these past three years and Ross has taken on the mantle of the Heart’s commander, adopting her late husband’s identity and disguising herself by wearing men’s clothing. The ghost of her late husband Will still lingers possessively around her, hindering her from moving on with her life without him.

The book begins with Ross returning home to visit her estranged mother on her deathbed. In doing so, she learns more about her family than she ever bargained for; including the fact that she has a half‑brother named David who was fathered by the household’s Rowankind bondservant. Ross also inherits a beautiful winterwood box; an object of great magical power, a family secret, that she is told only she can open, but the repercussions of that may be far‑reaching and dire. In addition, a shadowy enemy is on the hunt for Ross as well, and he would do anything to stop her from unlocking the box’s mysteries. With the crew of the Heart and the help of her newfound brother she sets off to unravel their family's secrets and right an ancient wrong.

Along the way she encounters more ghosts, whose deaths tell her tales of how ruthless is the government agent, who is out to find her. He uses dark magic, torture and murder to overcome her cloaking magic in his quest to locate and destroy both her and the winterwood box. She learns to love and appreciate her young brother and sees there is something more than just regular magic surging within him. She also finds more of her family and the reasoning behind her mother's hostility and fear of her magic.

She travels far and wide to find the answers, by sea and by land, and, somewhere during her travels, she encounters Kirwan, a handsome, clever man, one that Ross, and especially her dead husband, don't trust. As much as she doesn't trust him, however, she is also drawn to him and, when he shows up at different times to lend a hand or help her out, she really doesn't know whose side he's on. She falls for him slowly, which makes Will, her dead husband, angry and even more possessive. He tries to convince Ross that she would be better off dead, spending eternity with him rather than being alive with Kirwan.

As the mysteries of her family's past are revealed, Ross, David and Kirwan must brave the deep forest to meet with the fae who live in the woods to find out more about the history of the Rowankind, bondservants who have been indentured for so long and are so commonplace that no one recalls where they came from. With more of the puzzle pieces falling into place, Ross realizes that not everything is black and white. By opening the winterwood box and righting her ancestor's wrongdoing, she may well unleash a terrible evil on mankind which could also prove fatal for her and her loved ones. She begins to wonder who is the hero and who is the villain as the story draws to its climax.

Will Ross try to open the box, possibly sacrificing herself and others in the attempt? Will she and Kirwan be free to live and love or will they have a tragic ending to their story? What of the Rowankind? There is so much more to them than anyone ever imagined. How will they react when they realize just how they have been used by everyone around them?

Winterwood is a powerfully exciting start to a new series, leaving me waiting in anticipation for book two. How Jacey Bedford plans to top the excitement and adventure of book one, I have no clue, but I can't wait to find out! ~~ Dee Astell

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