For some reason I thought Kresley Cole’s Arcana Chronicles would be a trilogy. I don’t know why I thought that, considering her flagship PNR series stands at 15 books and counting. Dead of Winter is the third book in the series, and there is no sign that this thing is ending any time soon. But that’s okay — I’m actually enjoying the series, even if I’ve lost my taste for the type of angsty, controlling-posturing-as-romantic, aggressive young men that are the archetypes for both of the romantic heroes vying for heroine Evie’s heart (and who are a dime a dozen in the PNR market in general, YA included.)
This book jumps right back into where the action left off in the second book, Endless Knight, without much preamble, so I found myself scrambling to remember what happened in that book when I read it a year ago. Eventually I was as caught up as I needed to be: Evie had just escaped from being held prisoner by Aric a.k.a. Death, but the two had developed feelings for each other during that time (Stockholm-y premise, but IIRC it’s not too awful.) She is seeking to re-unite with the group of other Arcana who had formed an alliance, and in particular, she’s trying to organize a rescue mission for Jack, the normal human/mortal boy with whom she began this whole post-apocalyptic journey. For those with little experience in this thing: the conflict here is that Death and Jack are the other two points of the triangle, so Evie’s escaping from Death for Jack’s sake is a certain betrayal to him, and not a great way to start off what needs to be a working relationship between the two. That’s right — Dead of Winter has these two fiercely competitive rivals, who would willingly kill each other, act as allies.
Despite much ado being made over the romance — and it is — it’s secondary, to me, under what remains a really cool premise. The more we learn about the different characters who represent the Arcana and the powers they possess, the cooler and more epic the “game” becomes. And Evie herself has apparently only touched a fraction of her power, but she’s worried about really unleashing it because to do so could mean to “invoke the red witch”, an alter ego/past life version of Evie who was apparently a nasty piece of work and betrayed everyone she allied with or pretended to care for in a gruesome fashion. Not being that kind of person, and knowing the extent to which the witch burned bridges, Evie is understandably terrified of losing control and giving into her.
I think I recall saying something to this effect in a review for one of the prior books, but I think working in the YA format is giving Kresley Cole the chance to really focus on her worldbuilding and serialized storytelling — something she’s always been really strong at, but has played second fiddle to romance. Here, with the priorities reversed, I frankly think she’s doing some of her best work. I gave this entry three (actually 3.5) stars because it’s a little heavy on Evie’s “decision” between Jack and Death, but the concept is really doing it for me and I’m pretty invested in the series overall.