Victor is a student about to graduate, but he is kicked out of school after his affair with a professor is discovered. Things get worse when Victor trusts the wrong person and ends up left on the remote island of Lukos. The land is dangerous and life is harsh and, with winter almost upon them, Victor has no chance of survival on his own. Fortunately, the Lukoi people welcome those abandoned by others. Their community was founded by people who were exiled from their homes and now they readily accept others in need.
Sava has the nicest house on Lukos, built with the intention of taking a mate and living out their days together. However, when Milan died, Sava was left alone. Given that Sava has both the room, as well as enough supplies to survive a winter with a guest, the Lukoi chief asks Sava to take in Victor for the winter. Fortunately, Victor is both a scholar and adept in languages, and while little is known throughout the other lands of the Lukoi, he is able to manage some basic communication. The artist in Victor is also awed by the harsh, but picturesque, landscape and he finds beauty and joy in Lukos, even as the deadly winter approaches.
As the snows come, Victor and Sava are mostly hunkered down for the winter. They spend their days getting to know one another, teaching each other about their cultures. Victor finds himself not only coming to recognize the betrayal that brought him to Lukos, but also realizing that his past relationship was nothing like the true caring and affection he finds with Sava. Neither man feels confident they are enough for the other, however; Sava harbors guilt for what he feels like is his role in Milan’s death, and Victor has had his self esteemed lowered by his past lover. But as the winter continues, the two realize that they are a perfect fit for one another, and begin to plan a future together. However, the snow and ice isn’t the only deadly danger that Victor and Sava face, just as they are beginning their lives together.
Winter of the Owl is the first book in Iris Foxglove’s new Seasons of the Lukoi series. The series takes place in the same world as the authors’ Starian Cycle series, but this book stands alone perfectly and I had no trouble following along having not read the other series. Lukos is an island about which little is known and that is very separated from the rest of the world, so it has its own lore and world building. And that world building is really nicely done here. I love the idea of this community built from exiles, people pushed out of their homes who had to find a way to survive. As we learn, the early settlers banded together and formed a new society in this frigid and dangerous land. Now, the Lukos have a deep sense of community, helping one another survive and coming together to celebrate and share rituals. The land is so unforgiving that everyone is snowed in for most of winter, which means preparations are key and only the strongest survive.
Victor arrives in his harsh land, betrayed and essentially left to die. Fortunately, the Lukoi are generous with those in need and take him in. There is a nice fish-out-of water vibe here for Victor, and a sense of wide-eyed wonder at all the new things he learns and experiences. Fortunately, Victor is clever and knows about as much about Lukos as anyone on the mainland and he jumps in with both feet to become a part of this world.
I enjoyed the opposites attract element here, as the small, scholarly, but mentally tough Victor pairs so nicely with the strong and fiercely competent Sava. Sava is this gentle giant who can take down a bear, but also dotes on Victor so sweetly. There is such a lovely dynamic between these men as they care for each other during the long, cold weeks. One hallmark of this world (including the related series) is that everyone is either a dominant or submissive, and pairs (or triples) up accordingly. That said, the Dom/sub dynamic is extremely mild in this particular book, and while there are some very low key interactions between the men, I definitely don’t think this book has a kink feel. For me, that worked just fine, as I loved these guys together and didn’t need that added dynamic to come through strongly. But I wanted to note it in case this is something you are really looking for (or hoping to avoid). Either way, there is a lovely softness to these men together, a protectiveness they have for each other, and the story has such a cozy feel to it that I loved.
There are also some high-stakes moments that add some excitement, particularly at the end. I figured out what was going on well before the reveal, but honestly, I think we are supposed to see the writing on the wall, as that adds to some of the foreboding and suspense as Sava and Victor are taken off guard. There are also a few bigger issues explored. I’ll note that suicide is discussed, as well as grief in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, so be aware if those are trigger areas. I liked how this all comes together in the end, bringing a sense of found family for Victor and Sava that they both needed.
Overall, I really enjoyed my introduction to this world and am really excited about the series. As soon as I finished this book, I immediately went looking for information on the next story (which comes out in February), and I am super excited about the next main character. So if you are looking for a unique fantasy with a bit of a Dom/sub twist to the world building, definitely give this book a try.