Review: A Winter’s Promise

The Mirror Visitor Book One: A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos
491 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published by Europa Editions, 2018
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Indiana
Spoiler-free review


The Mirror Visitor is a classical fantasy book in terms of world building but it sets itself apart when it comes to character development.

Originally published in french in 2013, the United States just got its hands on a translated edition earlier this year. Unfortunately, I often found the translation to be clunky; as though the translator were using a dictionary rather than colloquial English. Regardless, I’m glad that it was translated because Christelle Dabos has created a wonderful new series that I think will be enjoyed just as much as series like Mortal Engines or His Dark Materials.

Since the “Rupture,” the world has been broken into different “Arks,” or countries that exist on these floating celestial pieces of earth. Each is ruled by its own spirit, the feel similar to Greek gods.

Ophelia is the star of the book. As a “reader” she is able to read objects by touching them and seeing what went on their respective pasts, tracing back generations and characters. She is also able to travel by mirror, by facing up to her reflection and stepping from one mirror to another. She’s a solitary figure and in her hometown, she runs a museum and wishes for nothing else but to run the museum and be left in peace.

Unfortunately, she is also expected to marry someone. She refused all the proposals she’d gotten from people in her hometown, so when someone from another country proposes, she isn’t allowed to refuse, according to her family. Her betrothed turns out to be an extraordinarily tall, spindly character, whose scarred face says more about him than perhaps his words ever will.

On the airship ride to his home, Thorn, as he’s fittingly named, warns Ophelia that she won’t survive very long in his country, where it is always winter. But Ophelia doesn’t really have a choice. In his arctic country, she meets awful illusionists, as well as violent and conniving people who can hit and scratch without physically touching their opponents.

Though she stays with Thorn’s family, there is hardly anyone that Ophelia can trust. Just about everyone in the country hates Thorn, including most of his family members. Of course, most of that hatred gets passed down to Ophelia by association. Thorn warns her again and again that the only person she can trust is his aunt, though even that seems unlikely at times.

As she gets into scraps with the police, with Thorn’s family, and with other political enemies she learns to look for who is pulling the strings. Thorn is working throughout most of the book, so there are only a few scenes with the two of them together, even though they’re betrothed.

He is a man of very few words and perhaps even fewer emotions, ranging from disinterested to furious. Yet, it seems there is something about Ophelia that puzzles him and he is always willing to help or at least hear her out.

But when Ophelia maintains her initial lack of desire for love from Thorn and she admits so to him, a bold move by any standard. It’s an example of just one of the scenes that sets her apart from many other heroines in classic fantasy books. She isn’t a Katniss Everdeen-like character and she isn’t the fainting-princess type either.

She doesn’t complain but isn’t afraid to speak out about wrong-doings, even to her detriment.

I did find the pacing of this book to be a bit slow at first, but I enjoyed being immersed in the sort of old-world steampunk-esque world and I genuinely enjoyed Ophelia as a character. I felt comfortable in relying on her perspectives and emotions because they never seemed out of line, which is rare for any protagonist.

The next book is not supposed to come out in English until spring, which is a bit of a bummer. I’ve thought about learning french to read it beforehand, but by the time I was proficient, the book would probably already be available in the U.S. So I suppose I’ll play the waiting game.

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