Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

38391059Verdict: Still in love.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Re-Telling

Published by Ebury Publishing, January 10 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

One girl can make a difference…

Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.

Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.

With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…

I adored this beyond measure.

I am a huge fan of this trilogy, have been ever since reading the very first chapter of the first book. I was both super excited and a bit apprehensive before reading this book – but I didn’t have to worry because Katherine Arden absolutely sticks the landing here. This book is both a great conclusion to this brilliant series as well as a great book in its own right.

What Arden does better than most authors I read is building an atmosphere so immersive I become lost in her (impeccably researched) world. I found reading this book a very rewarding experience and I am definitely a life-long fan. Drawing on Russian fairy tales and real world figures to build a world uniquely her own, Arden tells a story of a girl and her choices. Whatever happens in this book is always filtered through Vasya’s lenses and her destiny and I am in love with this. Vasya is a difficult character but someone I could not help root for. I wanted her to find her place and be happy. She is allowed to be prickly and nurturing, she can be rash and caring, and altogether wonderfully rounded. Her relationship to the Winter King just worked for me in this book (I was not fully on board in the book before) and I really liked the overwhelming tenderness between those two.

I adore how the world becomes more complicated as Vasya grows and the scope increases. Things that seemed very black and white to her in the first book become more ambivalent, people grow while staying true to their characterization, and overall the world becomes ever more believable.

Arden has a very distinct and very beautiful writing style that hints at her influences while being very much her own thing and from the very first chapter I was glad to be back in her capable hands. There is a rhythm to her writing that I find very beautiful and this coupled with a story that wraps up strong makes this a strong contender for my favourite book of this year (I just know it’ll make the list).

Other books in the series:
The Bear and the Nightingale: 5 out of 5 stars
The Girl in the Tower: 4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Girl in The Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) – Katherine Arden

35004343My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: November 13th, 2017

Published by Random House, Ebury Press, January 25th 2018

Verdict: Atmospherical, beautiful, stressful.

Find it on Goodreads.

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

I adore the world Katherine Arden has created here. The things I loved, loved, loved about the first part of this series are still all here:

  • brilliant characters with believable interactions,
  • sibling relationships that are complicated and true,
  • an atmosphere so all-encompassing that it makes you forget your own surroundings,
  • wonderfully immersive descriptions,
  • a surprising and wonderful way to construct sentences that just sound like nobody else (in the best possible way) while still retaining that fairy-talesque rhythm that makes this series so readable,
  • an understanding of the essence of fairy-tales that shows itself in the brilliant way the familiar tropes are both used and subverted, and
  • the wonderful setting of Medieval Russia.
  • And many more things.

From the very first chapter I was fully immersed in the story as we follow Vasya fleeing her home town after the events of the last book lest she be burned as a witch. Having only herself and her horse Solovey to rely on, this book has much higher stakes than the first one. Vasya pretends to be a boy and gets not only herself but her older siblings Sasha and Olga caught up in a web of lies.

I was not quite as enamored as I was with the first book (although to be fair, that book was one of the best things I have read in years…). Most of that comes down to simple genre preferences. This second book is a lot more fast-paced while the first one created a wonderfully slow narrative with clever twists on familiar fairy tales; this book reads more like a conventional YA-Fantasy (albeit a brilliantly written and very beautiful one). My biggest problem was the “pretending to be someone else”-trope. This is one of my least favourite tropes and stresses me out to no end. The dread this built made this a very different read for me.

But beyond this tiny little issue, I was wildly pleased with this book; I adore what Katherine Arden has created here and I find her vision and her voice beyond exciting. I am happy to have been there from the beginning and I cannot imagine not reading each and every single thing she will ever write.

First sentence: “A girl rode a bay horse through a forest late at night.”

I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.