Tag: katherine arden

Jan 08

The Winter of the Witch

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

The Winter of the WitchThe Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3) by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey on January 9, 2019
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreads five-stars

In the stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, following The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya returns to save Russia and the spirit realm, battling enemies both mortal and magic.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“I called every power of this land to war, winter-king. It had to be done. We cannot fight amongst ourselves.”

The Winter of the Witch is the absolute perfect ending to this trilogy. It shattered my heart, stitched it back together, then stomped on it. Just in case I had any hope of it ever healing properly.

The previous books in this trilogy are just as beautiful and just as compelling, as we first meet Vasya in The Bear and the Nightingale and see her growing into herself in The Girl in the Tower. In this final installment Vasya is still young and still growing, but she has come into herself as a woman and refuses (as she always has, in her way) to bend to societal expectations.

I was bawling within fifteen minutes of starting this book. And then I cried even harder at the end. I was wrung out, unspeakably sad, and yet there was an undercurrent of contentment and joy and hope that has made me recommend this beautiful trilogy to every. single. person. who would listen!

Characters

Vasya, of course. I would go to war with and for this girl. She hasn’t had an easy life but she refuses to be cowed and she embraces who and what she is, even if she doesn’t always understand it.

In her hands was the strength that had broken the bars of her cage in Moscow…”I may die tomorrow. Or live to sour old age. But you are only a wraith in a lake, and you will not command me.

She has heart, and she loves so fiercely and completely, it completely breaks my soul. Unlike in the previous books, Vasya also explores her sexuality in this one – and while I sort of saw her love interest coming, I couldn’t see HOW exactly it would work out…and then it did, and it was fabulous. Vasya will not take being anything less than an equal, and I absolutely LOVED how her path in life was not something she was willing to give up (nor did she) for anyone, regardless of her feelings for them. So often, even strong female heroines fall in love and give up their plans/dreams for their partner. Not that this is always bad…but it’s so often that it’s almost expected, and it’s definitely still an expectation in our society. It was SO refreshing to see how things settled out for Vasya.

I really fell in love with Vasya’s brother, Sasha, in this one too. He was always a sympathetic character, but his devotion to being a monk sort of turned me off. He really came into his own in this book too, and it became obvious his devotion is really more to people and country than any god. He also stops treating Vasya like a child, and their relationship just blossomed into what I’ve always dreamed a brother/sister bond to be.

Vasya put a hand on her brother’s arm. “Then, if you come with me tonight -” Her grip tightened; their eyes met. “I warn you, the road leads through darkness.”

Sasha said, “Then we will go through darkness, sister.”

Then of course, there are the bad guys…Medved, the Frost-King’s brother, as always up to treachery and warmongering, and the priest Konstantin with his hatred of Vasya and all she represents, coupled with an unrelenting thirst for power. The evil radiates off the page…and yet it is not all so cut and dry. Just as life is not all black and white, no matter how much we may wish it.

Plot

A threat from outside will tear Russia apart, but the boyars seem incapable of anything but internal bickering. Moscow burns, and the people blame Vasya. The only way to unite Russia seems to be the road through midnight…

The plot, while it definitely moves the story along and provides the catalyst for the various characters’ actions, is really secondary to the character and relationship development. It proceeds at a rather breakneck pace (unlike in The Girl in the Tower, where it seemed to meander at times), hurtling us all along towards the final bloody conclusion.

Worldbuilding

While I can’t say I would want to live in Katherine Arden’s medieval Russia, it is certainly beautiful and captivating – while also be cold and cruel, especially to women. She weaves in folktales and pagan traditions with the new Church, and who is to say it wasn’t, actually, just like that?

I am planning to re-read this trilogy every year. I bought the US and the UK editions of all three books. If you ever listen to any recommendations I make, PLEASE GO READ THESE BOOKS.

 

five-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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Jan 10

Review of The Bear and the Nightingale

Book Reviews 5 ★★★★★

Review of The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey on January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 336
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreads five-stars

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Before I get to my actual review of The Bear and the Nightingale (possibly my longest review ever), I have a little note:

Dear 2017,

I’m sure you’re aware of what a suck-tastic year 2016 was, for so many people. I really appreciate your efforts to make up for it by giving us this amazing treasure of a book so early in the year. The Bear in the Nightingale is the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time. It’s savage. It’s painful. And it’s phenomenally lovely. I had chills. I cried (and not just the tears-in-my-eyes kind…the I’m-on-a-public-bus-and-I’m-trying-so-hard-not-to-sob-I’m-shaking kind). Thank you for giving me a stellar 2017 book to recommend to everyone I know. Thank you for giving me another author to put on auto-buy.

Please send more books like this my way this year. 

~Lizzy

P.S. On second thought, maybe just one a year is fine. I had to order both the US and UK editions, so very many of these might break my bank.


There was a time, not long ago
When flowers grew all year
When days were long
And nights star-strewn
And men lived free from fear

Just to clarify: The Bear and the Nightingale (TBATN) is NOT a YA book. I’ve seen it pop up on several lists as such, but it is not. It’s also NOT historical fiction, though it is heavily inspired by historical, medieval Russia. It is adult fantasy that reads almost entirely like historical fiction until Part II, where it starts to feel like magical realism historical fiction…so let’s just keep it simple and say fantasy. Could some teenagers read it and appreciate it? Yes, but the style is very different from most YA, and some of the content is definitely adult (marital rape and a little graphic violence). This obviously didn’t deter me from ADORING it, but I thought the slight genre-confusion I’ve been noticing was worth a mention.

In Russian, Frost was called Morocco, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachun, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in the night.

Feels:

I am in love. With everything. With the world, with the characters, with the woods, the village. With Vasya. A little bit with Alyosha. I wept with Vasya and her family. I saw the spirits as Vasya did. I felt the fear of the villagers. I felt the pain and confusion of a young child with a wild, free spirit in a world that didn’t accept her. The writing in TBATN is astounding. Lyrical, whimsical, and utterly entrancing.

Characters:

“I am only a country girl,” said Vasya. “I have never seen Tsargrad, or angels, or heard the voice of God. But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing. We have never needed saving before.”

Vasya, the main character, is my sister from another mother. I swear. Her love of nature, her stubborn refusal to accept the fate others wish to push on her, her refusal to be broken. I already said I love her but it bears repeating. The story spans from right before her birth to the time she is 14 years old. She doesn’t have an easy life, but she has to be one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. Bent, at times, but never broken.

“All my life I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing.”

Now no joke, there are quite a few characters in this story. However, they are all so clear and distinct I was never confused. Not once. Not even with the Russian names. I did have to realize in the beginning that everyone had a given (fancy) name and a called (shorter, plainer) name, but since Arden stuck mostly to the called names it wasn’t hard. Also, each character experiences a growth arc in the book. No matter how minor, they show some growth and change – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad! That is an incredible feat and after reading so many books with such flat minor characters – amazing.

Romance – guess what? There is none. None. None, none, none, NONE! It’s such a beautiful breath of fresh air. There IS marriage. There’s also sex – and by sex I mean marital rape. It’s not graphic, but it’s obvious. I feel it’s treated as well as such a thing CAN be – these are medieval times, and in those times women were no more than property, no matter how highly valued that property. The women themselves often never questioned the right of their fathers and husbands to barter with them and then use their bodies for their own pleasure – it was a husband’s right and a wife’s duty! *insert much sarcasm* It definitely effects the entire dynamic of the story.

Plot:

TBATN is not a fast-paced book. It’s a slow burn building up to more and more – and it’s TOTALLY worth the read. All the details are beautiful and intriguing, and they really add to the mystery and overall atmosphere. The characters are really the driving force, and all the drama and suspense are very slow to build but after spending several chapters getting to know the people and the country I was already so invested I already knew I was in for the haul. Things really start to pick up with the arrival of a new priest in Vasya’s village. There is a struggle between the new Catholic church and the old spirits of the land and as things start to happen at first NOTHING is explained. Everything just kept building and building and there’s even a little mini-climax at one point (which was EXTREMELY satisfying), but things just keep going! Not only did it keep going, it picked up speed and I was completely wrapped up in the story.

As previously stated, there is no actual romance in TBATN. It doesn’t need it. There’s also not an entirely happy ending. It is…heartrending, yet hopeful at the same time. There’s no actual cliffhanger, but so much room for additional stories, and Vasya’s fate and path seem far from decided.

Worldbuilding/Setting:

Phenomenal. It truly has a historical feel to it. I’m not all the well-versed in Russian history or mythology, but the detailed notes on language and history at the end, as well as the comments I’ve read from people native to that part of the world seem to bear out that thought as well. The descriptions allow you to fall through the pages into the story, and it really feels like a full sensory experience. When the mythological creatures begin to appear, it feels so amazingly right.

Rating/Further Notes:

5 stars. I don’t have any more words for how beautifully savage this book is. I can’t wait to see what Katherine Arden comes up with next. I’ve heard rumors this is the first of a trilogy, but in her author Q&A page I only see mention of a sequel. I’ll be buying whatever she comes up with!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Challenges:

This one only counts towards my GoodReads challenge!

 

 

five-stars

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