Rating: 4 stars
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When Tristan was five years old, he found an abandoned baby wildcat the morning of the Feast of Winter’s Heart. Young Tristan was sure that the magical winter-fox brought the young cat for him, as it’s tradition that children receive gifts on the holiday. Tristan cared for the wildcat, who he named Chewy, in their home until the time came for Chewy to live on his own. Over the years, Tristan got many other wonderful gifts on the Feast of Winter’s Heart (including a baby brother), but Chewy was something special and was often by his side.
When Tristan came of age, it was time to leave the mountain and go to the city for college. Leaving Hud’s Basin wasn’t easy, as things were so different in the city. But the time had come for Tristan to explore a life beyond the small mountain town. Now that school is almost ending, Tristan is getting ready to make a life for himself as an adult. And this year for the Feast of Winter’s Heart, the winter-fox may just bring him his heart’s desire once again.
Winter’s Heart is a short holiday-themed story set in Leta Blake’s Heat of Love series. The story takes place after Bitter Heat, the book that introduces Tristan’s parents, Kerry and Janus, so having read their book is helpful here, and being familiar with the series is even better. This story is told starting when Tristan is five and running through age 21. It is told episodically, and we jump in and out of his life, mostly over the holiday. We see young Tristan as he finds Chewy and cares for the young wildcat, who remains by his side for years. We see the Heelies family grow and expand, and watch Tristan become a man and take those early steps to a life for himself. This story isn’t a romance, but rather more of a chance to watch Tristan grow and come into adulthood, with a strong holiday vibe added in. However, we do see Tristan start to fall for someone here and I’m hoping that it will lead into a longer story for him at some point. While Kerry and Janus to appear in this book, this is not a romance for them either. However, we do see them deeply in love, building their family, and growing older together.
This story is mostly a soft and sweet holiday book, but it also touches nicely on the backstory of Tristan’s birth, as Janus is not his birth father. While Kerry loves and accepts Tristan, we know from Bitter Heat that he had great fears about whether he could love a child born from abuse. Even here, there are times that Kerry has some twinges, particularly given that Tristan resembles Kerry’s ex’s family. And Tristan himself finds he has some questions about his birth father’s family. So this story isn’t angsty or intense, but I appreciated that we touch on a bit on these heavier issues. In the end, despite the fact that there is still some tension around Tristan’s parentage, it is clear that his family loves him deeply and he loves them in return.
As a note, this story appears to have been originally released last year as a free story in Blake’s newsletter, but it is now for sale as part of the full series. It is officially book 3.5, as it takes place in the timeline after Bitter Heat and, as I said, you want to be familiar with that story at the very least. I read the other holiday story, Winter’s Truth, just before this one. It just released, but is listed as book 2.6 in the series as it features Viro Sabel, who is born in Slow Birth (book 2.5). However, the two shorts take place at around the same time in the series timeline, as Tristan and Viro are roughly the same age, and the two stories do end up crossing over in the end. I actually enjoyed reading Winter’s Truth first, as this story gives away some of the events of that book (even though this one was written first). All of which is to say if you want to read them in the order written, that works well, but if you want to be totally surprised by the events of Winter’s Truth, you may want to read this one first.
I am a huge fan of this series and I have enjoyed each book Blake has created in this world. These short holiday stories have been a lot of fun and a great way to expand the universe. I hope now that we are meeting the younger generation in these shorter stories, we will have a chance to revisit them again for romances of their own.