Esmes Indie Highlights/SPFBO: Winters Reach by Craig Schaefer

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This one is part of Fantasy Book Review and has been picked as a semi finalist!

This one has a ton of betrayal and backstabbery and politics, if that’s your thing you may want to check this one out.

I listened to this book on audiobooks, so please forgive me for spelling errors.


A merchant house is dying off, and they need to save themselves. The father of the family has decided that his son, Felix, is going to marry the daughter of another house to secure their business and trade. The problem is that Felix is already in love with someone else, but she’s just a bar maid and his father said he would rather Felix be dead than have him marry so low.

Felix has decided he doesn’t care, and he’s going to go to Winter’s Reach in search of old mines that could be re-purposed and used for profit for his family. If he can do that he can secure his father and brothers future, and run away with his love and abandon his inheritance and family business.

Going to Winter’s Reach is a risky business though, it’s an old prison colony that formed into it’s own thing – like Australia 😀 Scary place full of scary people, or so he’s always been told.

He gets there and runs into problems, and the rest of his plotline is trying to fix things so he doesn’t have to marry someone he doesn’t want.

There’s another grouping of characters that are bounty hunters, but they seem like decent people, especially the woman Marie. She’s devout and agonizes over mistakes that have hurt people in the past, she’s haunted by them and strives to do better in the future. Her relationship with her partner isn’t all that it seems, and secrets pour out over the course of the book.

There’s another grouping of POV’s surrounding this worlds pope, he has two children a son and a daughter. The son is set to rule after he passes because in this world women can’t hold that kind of office. The son is inept and cruel at times, and the daughter is kind and helpful to the people. She’s trying to find a way where she can be more of an influence on the world, but is finding her gender hindering.

There are lots of smaller sublots going on, but so much of this book is murder, mystery and intrigue to go into much more would be spoilery.

Final Score: 8/10


  • Felix – a headstrong good person  who just wants to marry someone he loves and run away from it all. But, he also has a strong sense of family duty, and won’t run away until he can secure his families business. He gets in over his head quickly trying to make it all work, and there are multiple forces working against him.
  • Marie – a quieter spiritual person who’s suffered unbelievable tragedy. A war struck when the empire wanted her home land to submit to their rule, but they rebelled and suffered the consequences. There were atrocities on both sides of the war, but for a girl who witnessed her parents gruesome deaths she has a ton of resentment for those responsible.
  • Vernon – Maries partner in bounty hunting. He seems to be a decent person but as you go through the book you find out more and more of his past which turns him into a very grey character.
  • The owl – creeeeeppppyyy fucking witch character who does unspeakable horrors to people. She murdered an entire house full of people to get to one guy, people choking as cockroaches pour out of their mouths and other horrible ways to die. She’s ruthless and evil and in charge of a coven of witches.


Final Score: 8/10

World Building:

There’s a lot going on with House politics and trading/economy. The house that Felix’s father wants him to marry into is an underground crime family and the father is extremely dangerous.

There’s lots of mysterious magic going on in this book, it’s not explained how the Owl does what she does, it’s just dark magic that’s very messed up. There are bone masks that the witches wear that are illegal contraband, the Owl has been tracking these down and is searching for a book as well that holds secrets to their order.

There’s a decent amount of religion in the book as well, with the Empire supporting the Mother Church who worships the Gardener. But, Marie has a different religion of the goddess of 500 faces, she believes that one of the faces is the Gardener, but that the goddess does so much more than just garden.

Giant squids are a thing in this book, and referred to as an “elder”, it took down an entire ship.

Final Score: 7.5/10


This one went by pretty quickly for me, but not because it was super action filled. I just wanted to know what was going on, with so many people betraying each other and plotting against each other it was fun to see what was going to happen next.

I’d say the tone was kind of bleaker, the main character keeps getting thwarted and the consequences of failure are high on a personal level – it’s not a high stakes “the world is ending” kind of book.

Pacing Final Score: 7.5/10

Writing Final Score 8.5/10


The world was well developed, it wasn’t exactly brand new but the underground crime and weird witch villain were quite interesting

Final Score: 7/10 


  • multi pov
  • murder mystery
  • creepy witch covens
  • betrayal, backstabbing and plotting
  • mysterious magic
  • slower burn without as much action
  • crime bosses/underground crime

Final Score: 46.5/60 or 7.75/10 or 4 stars on goodreads 


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