The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden is an absolute gem of a book.
If you haven’t read The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, you may want to skip over this review until you have. I don’t want to reveal any plot points for earlier books and ruin your experience. But if you haven’t read them, you totally should immediately.
The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.
Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers — and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.
The story is told with the flair I’ve come to expect from Katherine Arden. The story is gripping and full of the cadence familiar to fairy tales, and this book has even more action than previous ones, as the country is headed towards massive conflict.
The biggest difference between this series and a traditional fairy tale is that the characters are multidimensional. The heroes have flaws and the villains have some redeeming characteristics (even though they may not be readily apparent). I thought I had a good grasp on the personality of each character, but this book changed my perspective a great deal for most of them, at least. Konstantin hasn’t changed much, to my utter lack of surprise, but he also doesn’t appear to have learned a single lesson.
“God cared not for men and women. All that mattered was his own will, and she was in his power. The thought heated his blood, as much as the worship of the crowd outside.”
Poor Vasya. I really felt for this girl, and her story gives a little insight into the challenges faced by women throughout history that don’t fit gender roles. Vasya is a great example of this — she acts out of a goodness of her heart, but she’s unexpected and different. And instead of being recognized for her accomplishments, she’s accused as a witch at every turn, with the consequences weighing heavily on her family and her own conscience. As a wicked demon we knew previously returns, chaos occurs, and a new threat looms on the horizon. Rather than hiding out, Vasya takes an active role to save everything that she loves. In the process, she finds her own path in life and a slow-burn romance that I definitely saw coming and was thrilled about.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 14
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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