Review: Winter’s Heat by Denise Domning (1994)

The Graistan Chronicles, Book #1

Heat Factor: Sex happens early, but not often.

Character Chemistry: They are the worst communicators. Also he doesn’t respect her. 

Plot: Rowena is married off to Rannulf, and decides to make the best of it. Plus there’s a lot of drama with her inheritance and the Evil Other Woman. 

Overall: This was an interesting read when approached as an artifact of romance written in the 1990s, but it didn’t make my heart go pitter-pat.

My husband grabbed this one for me from one of the many Little Free Libraries in the neighborhood, and since we decided to read wintery books this summer, it got bumped to the top of my list. So first thing’s first: there are a few wintry scenes at the beginning of the book, but I would not call this a winter romance. 

The story follows Rowena and Rannulf as they slowly find love in their marriage. I love me a good historical seducing my spouse book—the characters are already tied together, and it’s about them figuring out how to make the best of it in a situation where divorce isn’t really an option. Perhaps it’s the cold-bloodedness of it all, the idea that they can find a way to love each other where there is no other choice. So…maybe it’s not so romantic, but for some reason, I really enjoy this dynamic. 

With that said, this was a really interesting reading experience. Domning included a lot of historical detail. Now, I am not a historian, but the 12th century felt foreign, which seemed right. They wear weird-ass clothes and eat weird-ass food. The social niceties may not have been historically accurate (since time travel hasn’t been invented, we’ll probably never know); however, I thought that Domning handled the tension between showing that the characters had certain expectations that might be foreign to a contemporary reader and making those expectations relatable well. 

Rowena is a great heroine. She is overtly ambitious, which, frankly, felt like a breath of fresh air. Furthermore, she balances her ambition with pragmatism. As a child, Rowena was packed off to a convent, and was like, “Well, I want to have power, so I’m going to learn all I can to become the abbess.” When she’s abruptly removed from the convent and married to Rannulf, she’s understandably upset at the sudden change in her life—but quickly decides to make the best of it. She simply embraces her new avenue to power in managing her husband’s home. 

For those of you reading this who are thinking that Rowena sounds like an off-putting heroine, well, then maybe this book is not for you. Rannulf disappears for huge chunks of the book, and the focus instead lies on Rowena as she manages her husband’s home: cleaning it up, rooting out bad servants, etc. I personally love a tough, messy, angry, unlikeable heroine, so I thought Rowena’s adventures in cleaning up her medieval home were fascinating. 

Speaking of Rannulf, it must be noted that he is a big dumb oaf. This is a hero for a select audience, who like their heroes big and emotionally constipated and quick to anger. But seriously, he is so dumb. He listens to no one’s advice (even when they’ve already been proven right). And when Rowena does things like very sensibly worry about the cost of throwing an ill-advised party (she’s ambitious, but she also knows, like all the Dukes in romance come to learn, that with power comes responsibility to those under her), Rannulf gets all bent out of shape because she is worried about worldly things like money. To buy food. For the household. 

Even though Rannulf is a big dumb oaf, he and Rowena have decent chemistry. They do that thing in historicals from the 90s where they fight and bone a lot, but Domning made it believable. Also of note is that it is explicit in the text that Rowena does not orgasm until she and Rannulf have been having sex for months. While the sex writing is not very explicit, it is an excellent use of a sex scene to show deeper emotional closeness between the characters. Until this point, Rowena had been using sex as a way to keep Rannulf happy with her (see…cold-blooded), so her feeling desire is a huge turning point. 

Overall, there was a lot to like about this read, but it didn’t sweep me away the really a really satisfying romance does. 

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Looking for something similar?

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