"Cross-Dressing Privateer and the Mystery of the Winterwood Box"
Reviewed by Katherine Petersen
Posted March 11, 2016
Fantasy Historical | Historical
WINTERWOOD, the first book in Jacey Bedford's new series
Rowankind, combines all sorts of delicious elements
delectable whole. Urban fantasy, historical fiction, magic,
shapeshifters, a strong female lead and top it all off with
pirates. I certainly couldn't resist the temptation, and
the result was thoroughly satisfying.
The tale opens with Rossalinde Tremayne, the aforementioned
cross-dressing privateer saying goodbye to her estranged
mother on her deathbed. Her mother has the last word in
their tumultuous relationship when she gives Ross a
winterwood box along with the task of opening it and
righting an ancient wrong. Ross liked her life as captain
of the Heart with her swashbuckling pirate crew and
ghost of her dead husband, Will, but the box with its
mysterious history puts a wrench in her plans. The only
good thing that arose from visiting her childhood home was
discovering David, an unknown half brother.
Ross sets out to track down members of her family to find
out the details of what's in the box and what she's
supposed to do with it, but this road is fraught with
shadowy agents intent on her not completing her task, a
shapeshifter named Corwen whose trustworthiness is suspect
and the Fae among other travails and choices. She also must
avoid the Mysterium, an organization that requires witches
to register and then monitors their work. Ross's magic is
more wild and natural and doesn't fit into their rules, and
they'd likely hang her.
Bedford does a nice job of blending the real world of
England during the time of King George with magic and
otherworldly creatures. She draws the reader into her world
with vivid descriptions and entices us to care about her
characters. The story has a nix mix of detail and dialog,
especially the banter between Ross and Corwen. Bedford
touches on some ethical questions as Ross decides whether
or not to open the box given the result. Fans of D.B.
Jackson, although is series takes place in Boston, will
likely enjoy Bedford's WINTERWOOD, a nice start to the
It's 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne, and
Bonaparte is hammering at the door. Magic is strictly
controlled by the Mysterium, but despite severe
penalties, not all magic users have registered. Integral
to many genteel households is an uncomplaining army of
rowankind bondservants, so commonplace that no one
recalls where they came from.
Ross Tremayne, widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain
and unregistered witch, likes her life on the high seas,
accompanied by a boatload of swashbuckling pirates and
the possessive ghost of her late husband, Will. When she
pays a bitter deathbed visit to her long-estranged mother
she inherits a half brother she didn't know about and a
task she doesn't want: open the magical winterwood box
and right an ancient wrong—if she can.
Enter Corwen. He's handsome, sexy, clever, and capable,
and Ross doesn't really like him; neither does Will's
ghost. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he on?
Unable to chart a course to her future until she's
unraveled the mysteries of the past, she has to evade a
ruthless government agent who fights magic with darker
magic, torture, and murder; and brave the hitherto hidden
Fae. Only then can she hope to open the magical
winterwood box and right her ancestor's wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, success may prove fatal to both Ross and
her new brother, and desastrous for the country. By
righting a wrong, is Ross going to unleash a terrible
evil? Is her enemy the real hero and Ross the villain?
ExcerptA Bitter Farewell
April 1800, Plymouth, England
The stuffy bedroom stank of sickness, with an underlying
taint of old lady, stale urine, and un-washed clothes,
poorly disguised with attar of roses. I’d never thought
to return to Plymouth, to the house I’d once called home;
a house with memories so bitter that I’d tried to scour
them from my mind with saltwater and blood.
Had something in my own magic drawn me back? I didn’t
know why it should, though it still had the capacity to
surprise me. I could control it at sea, but on land it
gnawed at my insides. Even here, less than a mile from
the harbor, power pulsed through my veins, heating my
blood. I needed to take ship soon, before I lost control.
Little wonder that I’d felt no need to return home since
eloping with Will.
My ears adjusted to the muffled street sounds, my eyes to
the curtained gloom. I began to pick out familiar shapes
in the shadows, each one bringing back a memory, all of
them painful. The dressing table with its monstrously
carved lion mask and paw feet where I had once sat and
experi-mented with my mother’s face powder and patches,
earning a beating with the back of a hairbrush for the
mess. The tall bed— a mountain to a small child— upon
which I had first seen the tiny, shawl-wrapped form of my
brother, Philip, the new son and heir, pride and joy, in
my mother’s arms.
And there was the ornate screen I’d once hidden behind,
trapped accidentally in some small mischief, to witness a
larger mischief when my mother took Larien, our rowankind
bondsman, to her lonely bed. I hadn’t under¬stood, then,
what was happening beneath the covers, but I’d
instinctively known that I should not be there, so I’d
swallowed my puzzlement and kept silent.
Now, the heaped covers on that same bed stirred and
“Philip?” Her voice trembled and her hand fluttered to
her breast. “Am I dreaming?”
My stomach churned and my magic flared. I swallowed hard,
pushed it down and did my best to keep my voice low and
level. “No, Mother, it’s me.”
“Rossalinde? Good God! Dressed like a man! You never had
a sense of decorum.”
It wasn’t a question of decorum. It was my armor. I wore
the persona as well as the clothes.
“Don’t just stand there, come closer.” My mother
beck¬oned me into the gloom. “Help me up.”
She had no expectation that I would disobey, so I didn’t.
I put my right arm under hers and my left arm around her
frail shoulders and eased her into a sitting position,
hearing her sharp indrawn gasp as I moved her. I plumped
up pillows, stepped back and turned away, needing the
I twitched the curtain back from the sash window an inch
or two to check that the street outside was still empty,
listening hard for any sound of disturbance in the
normality of Twiling Avenue a disturbance that might
indicate a hue and cry heading in my direction. I’d crept
into the house via a back entrance through the next-door
neighbor’s shrubbery. The hedge surrounding the house
across the street rippled as if a bird had fled its
shelter. I waited to see if there was any further
movement, but there wasn’t. So far there was nothing
beyond the faint cries of the vendors in the market two
streets over and the raucous clamor of the wheeling gulls
Satisfied that I was safe for now, I turned back to find
my mother had closed her eyes for a moment. She snatched
a series of shallow breaths before she gave one long
sigh. Opening her eyes again, she regarded me long and
steady. “Life as a pirate’s whore certainly seems to suit
“Yes, Mother.” Pirate’s whore! I pressed my lips
together. It wasn’t worth arguing. She was wrong on both
counts, pirate and whore. As privateers, we cruised under
letters of marque from Mad King George for prizes of
French merchantmen, Bonaparte’s supply vessels. As to the
whore part, Will and I had married almost seven years
“So you finally risked your neck to come and say good-
bye. I wondered how long it would take. You’re almost too
I didn’t answer.
“Oh, come on, girl, don’t beat about the bush. My belly’s
swollen tight as a football. This damn growth is sucking
the life out of me. Does it make you happy to see me like
this? Do you think I deserve it?”
I shook my head, only half-sure I meant it. Damn her! She
still had me where it hurt. I’d come to dance on her
grave and found it empty.
“What’s the matter?”
I waited for “Cat got your tongue?” but it didn’t come.
“Give me some light, girl.”
I went to open the curtains.
“No, keep the day away. Lamplight’s kinder.”
I could have brightened the room with magic, but magic—
specifically my use of it— had driven a wedge between us.
She had wanted a world of safety and comfort with the
only serious concerns being those of fashion and taste,
acceptable manners and suitable suitors. Instead she’d
been faced with my unacceptable talents.
I struck a phosphor match from the inlaid silver box on
the table, lifted the lamp glass and lit the wick. It
guttered and smoked like cheap penny whale oil. My
mother’s standards were slipping.
I took a deep breath; then, to show that she didn’t have
complete control of the proceedings, I flopped down into
the chair beside the bed, trying to look more casual than
Her iron-gray hair was not many shades lighter than when
I’d last seen her seven years ago. Her skin was pale and
translucent, but still unblemished. She’d always had good
skin, my mother: still tight at fifty, as mine would
probably be if the wind and the salt didn’t ruin it, or
if the Mysterium didn’t hang me for a witch first.
She caught me studying her. “You really didn’t expect to
see me alive, did you?”
I shrugged. I hadn’t known what to expect.
“But you came all the same.”
“I had to.” I still wasn’t sure why.
“Yes, you did.” She smirked. “Did you think to pick over
my bones and see what I’d left you in my will?”
No, old woman, to confront you one last time and see if
you still had the same effect on me. I cleared my throat.
“I don’t want your money.”
“Good, because I have none.” She pushed herself forward
off her pillows with one elbow. “Every last penny from
your father’s investments has gone to pay the bills. I’ve
had to sell the plate and my jewelry, such as it was. All
that’s left is show. This disease has saved me from the
workhouse.” She sank back. “Don’t say you’re sorry.”
“I won’t because I’m not.”
Leaving had been the best thing I’d ever done.
Life with Will had been infinitely more tender than it
had ever been at home. I didn’t regret a minute of it. I
wished there had been more.
The harridan regarded me through half-closed eyes. “And
have I got any by-blow grandchildren I should know
“No.” There had been one, born early, but the little mite
had not lasted beyond his second day. She didn’t need to
“Not up to it, is he, this Redbeard of yours? Or have you
unmanned him with your witchcraft?”
I ignored her taunts. “What do you want, forgiveness?
“What do I want?” She screwed her face up in the
semiblance of a laugh, but it turned to a grimace.
“You nearly got us killed, Mother, or have you
“That murdering thief took all I had in the world.”
All she had in the world? Ha! That would be the ship she
was talking about, not me.
“That murdering thief, as you put it, saved my life.”
And my soul and my sanity, but I didn’t tell her that.
He’d taught me to be a man by day and a woman by night,
to use a sword and pistol, and to captain a ship. He’d
been my love, my strength and my mentor. Since his death
I’d been Captain Redbeard Tremayne in his stead— three
years a privateer captain in my own right.
“Is he with you now?”
“He’s always with me.”
That wasn’t a lie. Will showed up at the most unlikely
times, sometimes as nothing more than a whisper on the
“So you only came to gloat and to see what was left.”
“I don’t want anything of yours. I never did.”
“Oh, don’t worry, what’s coming to you is not mine. I’m
only passing it on— one final obligation to the past.”
Her voice, still sharp, caught in her throat and she
“Do you want a drink?” I asked, suddenly seeing her as a
lonely and sick old woman.
“I want nothing from you.” She screwed up her eyes. Her
hand went to her belly. I could only stand by while she
struggled against whatever pain wracked her body.
Finally she spoke again. “In the chest at the foot of the
bed, below the sheet.”
I knelt and ran my fingers across it. It had been my
fa¬ther’s first sea chest, oak with a tarnished brass
binding. I let my fingers linger over his initials burnt
into the top. He’d been an absentee father, always away
on one long voyage after the other, but I’d loved his
homecomings, the feel of his scratchy beard on my cheek
as he hugged me to him, the smell of the salt sea and
pipe tobacco, the presents, small but thoughtful: a
tortoiseshell comb, a silken scarf, a bracelet of bright
beads from far-off Africa.
I pulled open the catch and lifted the lid.
“Don’t disturb things. Feel beneath the left-hand edge.”
I slid my hand under the folded linen. My fingers touched
something smooth and cool. I felt the snap and fizz of
magic and jerked back, but it was too late, the thing,
whatever it was, had already tasted me. Damn my mother.
What had she done?
I drew the object out to look and found it to be a small,
polished wooden box, not much deeper than my thumb. I’d
never seen its like before, but I’d heard winterwood
de¬scribed and knew full well what it was. The grain held
a rainbow, from the gold of oak to the rich red of
mahogany, shot through with ebony hues. It sat
comfortably in the palm of my hand, so finely crafted
that it was almost seam¬less. My magic rose up to meet
I tried the lid. “It’s locked.”
She had an odd expression on her face.
“Is this some kind of riddle?” I asked.
“How does it open? What’s inside it?”
“That’s for you to find out. I never wanted any of it.”
My head was full of questions. My mother hated magic,
even the sleight-of-hand tricks of street illusionists.
How could this be any inheritance of mine?
Yet I could feel that it was.
I turned the box around in my hands. There was some¬thing
trapped inside that wanted its freedom. No point in
asking if anyone had tried to saw it open. You don’t work
ensorcelled winterwood with human tools.
Wrapping both hands around the box, I could feel it was
alive with promise. It didn’t seem to have a taint of the
black about it, but it didn’t have to be dark magic to be
I shuddered. “I don’t want it.”
“It’s yours now. You’ve touched it. I’ve never handled it
“Where did it come from?”
She shook her head. “Family.”
“Neither you nor Father ever mentioned family, not even
“Long gone, all of them. Gone and forgotten.”
“I don’t even know their names.”
“And better that way. We left all that behind us. We
started afresh, Teague and I, making our own place in
soci¬ety. It wasn’t easy even in this tarry-trousers
town. Your an¬cestors companied with royalty, you know,
though much good it did them in the end. You’re a lady,
Rossalinde, not a hoyden.” She winced, but whether from
the memories or the pain I couldn’t tell. “That blasted
thing is all that’s left of the past. It followed me, but
it’s too much to . . .” Her voice trailed off, but then
she rallied. “I wasn’t having any of it. It’s your
responsibility now. I meant to give it to you when you
came of age.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at me.
“How old are you, anyway?”
I was lean and hard from life at sea. You didn’t go soft
in my line of work. “I’m not yet five and twenty,
Mother.” I held up the box and stared at it. “What if I
can’t open it?”
“I suppose you’ll have to pass it on to the next
“There won’t be a next generation.”
She shrugged and waved me away with one hand.
“Give it to Philip.” I held it out to her, but she shrank
back from it and her eyes moistened at my brother’s name.
What had he been up to now? Likely he was the one who’d
spent all her money. I hadn’t seen Philip for seven
years, but I doubted he’d reformed in that time. He’d
been a sweet babe, but had grown into a spoilt brat,
manipulative and selfish, and last I saw he was carrying
his boyhood traits into adolescence, turning into an
opportunist with a slippery tongue.
“Always to the firstborn. But you’re behind the times,
girl. Philip’s dead. Dead these last seven months.” Her
voice broke on the last words.
“Dead?” I must have sounded stupid, but an early death
was the last thing I’d envisioned for Philip. The
grievances I’d held against him for years melted away in
an instant. All I could think of was the child who’d
followed me around, begging that I give him a horsey ride
or tell him a story.
“A duel. In London. A matter of honor was the way it was
written to me.”
“Oh.” It was such an ineffectual thing to say, but right
at that moment I didn’t really know how I felt. Had
Philip actually developed a sense of honor as he grew?
Was there a better side to my brother that I’d never
seen? I hoped so.
“Is that all you can say? You didn’t deserve a brother.
You never had any love for him.”
I let that go. It wasn’t true.
“I thought you might have changed.” My mother’s words
startled me and I realized my mind had wandered into the
past. Stay sharp. This might yet be a trap, some petty
revenge for the wrongs she perceived that I heaped on
her: loss of wealth, loss of station, now loss of son.
Next she’d be blaming me for the loss of my father,
though only the sea was to blame for that.
“That’s all I’ve got for you.” She turned away from me.
“It’s done. Now, get out.”
“I’m ready for my medicine.”
I knew it would be the last time I’d see her. I wanted to
say how sorry I was. Sorry for ruining her life, sorry
for Philip’s death. I wanted to take her frail body in my
arms and hold her like I could never remember her holding
me, but there was nothing between us except bitterness.
Even dying, there was no forgiveness.
I turned and walked out, not looking back.
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