Winterkeep: Graceling Realm, Book 4

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Winterkeep: Graceling Realm, Book 4 Book Poster Image
Fascinating fantasy high in discussion-worthy sex content.

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age 15+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Nations grapple with what to do with dangerous weapon technology, something that's happened in our own world repeatedly. A nation also grapples with becoming more industrial at the expense of the environment.

Positive Messages

Open up to love and trust after living through abuse and trauma. Seek justice. Protect the environment.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lovisa begins as someone petty and secretive who works hard to protect herself and her three young brothers from her abusive parents. She sleeps with men at age 16 to feel something, though she's not sure what just yet. She makes a huge transformation when she helps Bitterblue and begins to see herself as brave and someone who can impact the wider world with her talent. Of note: The inhabitants of Winterkeep are described as having brown skin and are from a more technologically advanced nation than others where people have lighter skin and features.


People and sea creatures injured and killed by explosions. A teen killed and thrown into the ocean. A woman tripped on the stairs and asphyxiated with details. Four children abused by parents, physically and mentally. Kidnappings where captives are slowly starved. Arson with exploding air ships and injuries. Repeated mentions of a ship deliberately sunk with two bodies locked inside the cabin. A fox jokes about wanting to bite off a boy's penis. Mentions of Queen Bitterblue's cruel father who killed her mother.


Lovisa, the 16-year-old main character, has sex with an anonymous guard with details, including the guard growing hard, a hand on the breast, and the tea she drinks to prevent pregnancy. More details with another encounter, including mentions of oral sex. Lovisa propositions another school teen as a front to leave a party and he's rough with her in a way she doesn't like. Another straight couple has sex, with few details given. Lovisa hears her parents have sex. Talk of the queen and Lovisa's school friends having regular sexual relationships. Talk of an LGBTQ relationship.


"Ass" and "cowshit" once, but mostly "slut," "balls," and the Winterkeep equivalent of balls, "kittens."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Bitterblue takes too much medicine for motion sickness and gets high. People take strong herbs to help them sleep.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kristin Cashore's Winterkeep is the fourth book in the acclaimed Graceling Realm fantasy series, set this time mostly in a land across the sea from Monsea that boasts airships and telepathic foxes and sea creatures. The series has always been for mature readers, since the main female character in each deals with trauma and abuse perpetrated by parents or guardians. In Winterkeep, the content is even more mature, because Lovisa, age 16, explores her sexuality in ways that show how much her abusive parents hurt her development. She has sex with an anonymous guard with details, including the guard growing hard and the tea she drinks to prevent pregnancy. There are more details with another encounter, including mentions of oral sex. Lovisa propositions another school teen as a front to leave a party and he's rough with her in a way she doesn't like. Other mature content is mild by comparison. Besides the mentions of abuse suffered by Lovisa and her three young brothers, people and sea creatures are injured and killed by explosions. A teen is killed and thrown into the ocean. A woman is tripped on the stairs and asphyxiated, and details are given. There are two kidnappings where captives are slowly starved and arson with exploding air ships and injuries. Language is pretty mild ("cows--t" is as bad as it gets), and Queen Bitterblue takes far too many drugs for motion sickness and gets high.

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Teen, 17 years old Written byMJ33 February 19, 2021

Not as good as the rest of the series

Winterkeep is the fourth book in the Graceling series. Along with some of the characters from the previous books, this book introduces a host of new characters... Continue reading

What's the story?

In WINTERKEEP, Queen Bitterblue's envoy to Winterkeep, the land across the sea, is missing and she wants to know what happened. The last communication she received from her men was that she should "look into zilfium." Zilfium is a mined fuel Winterkeep sells to the rest of their continent. Slowly Bitterblue figures out that they've been stealing the resource from her silver mines and makes an impulsive decision to cross the sea, find her men, and demand justice for her stolen resources. On the voyage, Bitterblue succumbs to a rogue wave and falls overboard when no one is looking. She's rescued by telepathic silbercows and eventually humans in an airship -- the wrong humans in an airship. Bitterblue wakes up in a strange locked room and discovers she's been kidnapped. Fortunately she's locked in the attic of two prominent politicians who have a nosy and cunning teen daughter named Lovisa.

Is it any good?

Author Kristin Cashore is known for the eccentric worlds she creates, but this is one of the most fun. With the kidnappings of people hidden who-knows-where, sneaky telepathic foxes running all about, and airships everywhere, there's no shortage of wonder. Winterkeep even begins with a tale from the perspective of a giant sea creature whose reluctance to remove herself from her small aquatic world and help others mirrors the main character's own struggle. Still, it's hard to rate this fantasy with a complex female hero and wild embellishments such as a singing sea monster because it's just too fascinating to dwell on its many flaws.

Lovisa, the main character, will remind you in many ways of other female heroes from the Graceling Realm. She's clawing her way out of a traumatic upbringing and trying to see herself as a person worth loving who has something to offer the world. Here's where Winterkeep falters, dwelling on her missteps, which are mostly sex scenes. After the third awkward encounter you'll desperately want to get back to Bitterblue and her sweet romantic story. Readers who were sorry when Giddon was rejected by Katsa in Graceling will be rooting for him here. It seems like this storyline wraps up too early, but there are still many mysteries to solve that require the help of sea creatures, a Graceling spy, an airship, and some wily foxes. Truly fascinating until the end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about all the sex in Winterkeep. It's a lot of sex for a book aimed at teens. What do you think the sexual encounters say about Lovisa, the main character? How do they show who she is and what she's suffered in life? How does Lovisa's view of sex and relationships change in the course of the book?

  • The violence is milder here, but jarring in its implications. What does Monsea gain by developing new weapons? What does it lose? Do they really have a choice in how they move forward?

  • Have you read the whole Graceling Realm series? What do you like about it? Would you read about another character? Bitterblue's half-sister Hava or the woman graced with finding lost things? Who else would make a compelling female hero?

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