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Book Review: The Heart of Winter by Shona Kinsella

An unexpectedly cozy story of a young woman embracing her destiny

By Marie SinadjanPublished about a month ago 4 min read

Brigit is a young woman living in a Scotland still ruled by tribes and largely Pagan.

As Christianity is beginning to find a foothold, Brigit pays lip service to the church, but truly venerates the old gods. She does not support the changing position of women through the teachings of the church.

A cool, damp summer and an early winter threaten the harvest. A harsh winter means starvation, so the elders of Brigit’s village panic. They petition Aengus, the god of summer, to protect them. He agrees on the condition that they provide him with a bride. He chooses Brigit and the deal is made without her knowledge or consent.

When Brigit learns of this arrangement, she flees into the Highlands to seek out the Cailleach, the goddess of winter. The Cailleach is uninterested in Brigit’s plight; humans have hated and feared her for generations, and she is tired of their complaining.

Brigit is not discouraged. She sets up camp outside the Cailleach’s cave and makes offerings to the Winter Queen every day. Aengus comes looking for his bride but cannot approach the cave because he and the Cailleach are opposites.

Caught between two gods and finding an unlikely ally in the Fae witch, Nicnevin, Brigit will be tested to her limits and beyond.

GENRE: Fantasy / Folklore


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Scottish fantasy author Shona Kinsella is the author of The Heart of Winter, The Vessel of KalaDene series, dark Scottish fantasy novella Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae, British Fantasy Award shortlisted industrial novella The Flame and the Flood, and non-fiction Outlander and the Real Jacobites: Scotland’s Fight for the Stuarts. Her short fiction can be found in various magazines and anthologies. She served as editor of the British Fantasy Society’s fiction publication, BFS Horizons for four years and is now the Chair of the British Fantasy Society.

Shona lives near the picturesque banks of Loch Lomond with her husband and three children. She enjoys reading, nature walks, and spending time with her family. When she is not writing, doing laundry, or wrangling children, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. / X: @shona_kinsella / Instagram: shona.kinsella


I really liked this. I didn't expect it to be slow and cozy yet still appeal to me, as I usually like my fantasy with lots of action and a fast-paced plot. Maybe I was also just reminded of one of my own stories, Nameless Queen (which I'm rather attached to 🙈), as it's also on the cozy side and about someone coming to terms with her Destiny (and the other capital D).

I'm not familiar with Scottish mythology/folklore so I can't say if the modern feminist angle has always been there or something just folded into the story, but the 'strong independent woman' thing makes sense in the context of the Cailleach. Ironically, my biggest takeaway from her — as someone who hasn't enjoyed winter the two times I've experienced it so far— is not about being strong and independent, but rather that winter has a purpose: it's a time to slow down and rest. (Too bad we can't just stop working these days, LOL.)

I liked how the gods weren't angry and vengeful. I get the Cailleach distancing herself, but she was endearing in her own way once you got to know her. Even Aengus, despite all he'd done, was likeable. It was just very refreshing.

The ending and the turn of events leading to it might seem like an undoing of the premise, but I actually liked it? Perhaps it won't be as appealing to some readers compared to, say, an ending where Brigit decides to be alone because she neither needs nor wants a man, just two loyal wolves like the Cailleach... but it's also rare for me to see stories where the resolution is the characters working out a compromise. Maybe because it's not as exciting. Maybe because it doesn't make a grand statement. But hey, life happens, seasons shift, surprises abound, we can change our minds and our hearts.

I also just liked the Hades-Persephone-Demeter vibe of the whole thing. Plus, I won't lie, I love a slowburn romance with a nice guy.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️️⭐️️


Hi! I'm Marie, a Filipino SFFH author and book reviewer currently based in the UK. I’m the co-author of The Prophecies of Ragnarok, a Norse myth new adult urban fantasy trilogy, and I also have several short stories published in anthologies and literary journals.

You can find more info about me and my books, and also subscribe to my newsletter for more content, here. And if you like what I do, please also consider supporting me on Ko-fi! 🩷

If you fancy a short read this #IndieApril, I have a cozy reimagining of the Norse myths about Hel, but it's just under 70 pages and can be read in one sitting. ✨ Plus there's a swag kit coming soon! Includes a "membership card," a bookmark, a sticker, an origami dog, and an exclusive 500-word story 🫶🏼


About the Creator

Marie Sinadjan

Filipino spec fic author and book reviewer based in the UK. •

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