Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden - 10/10*
I was provided an ARC of this book by the publisher, in exchange for a fair and honest review.
At long last, we’ve come to the end of the road for Vasya Petrovna, a young woman in medieval Russia gifted with the ability to see the spirits of hearth and forest that are slowly dying out. Arden works her narrative magic in this immensely satisfying conclusion, bringing to a close the story of Vasya’s struggle to find a balance between the changes coming to the land of Rus and the old ways that protected her people for so long. To do so, she must find a way to placate powerful spirits threatened by the humans – including the mercurial winter king. If you haven’t started this series yet, I highly recommend you pick up THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE and dive in!
THE WINTER OF THE WITCH begins just hours after the climactic battle of THE GIRL IN THE TOWER, when the Grand Prince was nearly overthrown and Vasya inadvertently created a great fire in Muscovy. Although Vasya was able to eventually quell the fire with the help of the winter king, the entire town is on edge. Eventually, roused to anger by Vasya’s bitter enemy Father Konstantin, the townspeople storm the palace and drag Vasya to the forest to be burned at the stake as a witch. Vasya escapes only through bargains struck by those who believe that she can be a new power in the war that is coming to Rus – bargains that loose a great darkness on the land and send Vasya to a hidden country she will have to learn to navigate if she is to return home and save her people.
Readers of the previous entries in this series will be pleased to know that, once again, Arden’s elegant writing style is at full force. THE WINTER OF THE WITCH is a Russian folktale in long form, with princes and spirits and great armies, and one singularly powerful woman at the center of it all. The prose invokes the aura of a storyteller in front of a fire on a winter’s night. But though the language is simple, the characters are not. There are no easy decisions, no relationships that are untested or foregone conclusions. Even the central romance is complicated, twisted as it has been around scheming and maneuverings by both parties involved. And that’s what makes this tale supreme, that it can straddle the line and be fantastical and grounded at the same time.
Of course, this story doesn’t work without Vasya. This is a heroine who wins through her quiet inner strength. She’s been through a lot over the trilogy, and while she was never exactly timid, she is officially done letting men or spirits dictate terms to her. Vasya is a woman who will stand in front of a flooding river, demand it abate, and expect to be obeyed. She has magic, yes, but it is her sheer force of will that allows her to be a worthy adversary. She is still flawed, given sometimes to strong emotions that overrule her better judgement. But through it all, this is a woman moved by kindness. Her devotion to her family, the respect she gives to the spirits of the forest, allow her to unite the lands of Rus in a way that no one else ever has. She’s a heroine you want to root for, and cheer for with every success.
THE WINTER OF THE WITCH is an impressive end to this fairy tale trilogy. I’m still amazed at how well seeds were planted in THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE, story points that were not that important to book one but which blossomed into key arcs in subsequent books. Even Konstantin, villain that he is, has the kind of tragic journey you can empathize with. Vasya is a heroine that will live on long in my heart, long past the ending of this Russian winter.
This review was originally posted on Caitlin’s blog, Realms of My Mind.