Gods spring forth from the human heart in Rachel Neumeier’s WINTER OF ICE AND IRON, a sprawling epic fantasy of political intrigue and cold, bitter magics. Every polity in the Four Kingdoms generates magic, which wells up from the intentions and labors of its people and invests local rulers with hereditary, semi-sentient spirits called Immanents. When the ruler of Emmer decides to feed the Immanents of every other nation to his own, conquest isn’t the greatest danger. The real problem is that any one of the Immanent Powers in play might achieve apotheosis, transforming into a god — and in the process destroying the land that created it….
Neumeier’s writing has a spare, haunting quality …. Best of all are her characters — particularly Innisth, the conscientious duke burdened with a sadistic Immanent. This is Innisth’s story by virtue of the fact that he’s got more agency and layers than the princess Kehera, but they work together beautifully, and their romance has a number of interesting and unconventional complications. The characters hook; the writing holds. It’s comfort food, but more satisfying than most.
I should add that Jemisin also thinks WINTER is “traditional and predictable,” so no doubt she would usually prefer a less traditional setting or plot or both. It’s pretty snazzy that she plainly enjoyed it anyway.