Monday 9 March 2020

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Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Published: Del Rey | Publisher: 3rd October 2019 | Cover Design: Head Design | Cover Illustrations: Aitch | Source: Bought
Katherine Arden's Website

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

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.
From Goodreads

My other reviews of The Winternight Trilogy:
The Bear and the Nightingale (#Ad) | The Girl in the Tower (#Ad)

WARNING! I cannot review this book without spoiling the others in the series. Read no further if you're planning on reading this series and don't want it spoilt for you.

I completely adored the first two books in the Winternight Trilogy, and I couldn't wait to finish it with the final book, The Winter of the Witch. And it was absolutely incredible!

Like with the previous book, The Winter of the Witch starts exactly where The Girl in the Tower ended. Kasyan Lutovich - who was actually the immortal sorcerer Kaschei the Deathless - is dead, the Tatar bandits under his control have fled, and the snowstorm Vasya brought Morozko back into the world for has put out the fires caused by the firebird. Moscow is in a state; while the snowstorm stopped total destruction, a lot of damage has been done. Father Konstantin, overwhelmed with hatred, loathing and desire for Vasya, has stirred the people into a rioting mob who are demanding Vasya be burned for being a witch, and have dragged her out of the grounds of her sister's palace.

And I can't tell you any more than that. So much happens in this book, so much, and it's quite the epic story. Vasya grows and changes in this book; she matures, and she grows into her powers in dangerous ways. She has her morals, and she tries to do what she thinks is right, but she can't do things on her own. And there are now expectations of her. She has a huge amount on her plate, she's under pressure - some of it she has put herself under - and there is a risk to her sanity. But I do feel in this book we actually see Vasya become an adult. Technically speaking, you coul say she's already an adult, but I'm refering her level of maturity, the choices and decisions she makes, and what those decisions mean for her. She looks at the bigger picture, and chooses selflessness every time, even though some would say it's undeserved.

It's also a really shocking and emotional, heartbreaking story. Vasya goes through a lot. She experiences so much trauma, and it does effect her. Yes, she does a hell of a lot in this book, but she doesn't do it uneffected. Pain is her constant companion, yet she manages to carry on despite it all, because she's needed. If she doesn't, no-one will, and the world will go to ruin. But it's not a "chosen one" story. Yes, Vasya can see the cherti, yes, she can communicate with horses, and yes, she has some kind of magical power - but she chooses to do what she does. Many times she is given the opportunity to leave things be, and let them fall as they will. It's not her fight. But she simply can't turn her back on her people. And so, again and again, with more than just pain as her companion at her side, Vasya chooses to try and do what she feels is right, even though all she wants to do is stop. Her greatest strengths are her compassion and her selflessness. She's just incredible.

I want to quickly touch on something I mentioned in my review of The Girl in the Tower, and how people branded Vasya as a witch because she acted in a way that did not befit a woman - too bold and reckless and wild. Vasya has always stayed true to herself, however, has never bowed down to convention, allowed herself to become small under the glares of the patriarchal society. And in this book, she is abducted to be burned for it. In The Winter of the Witch, it's almost as if their insults and violence were prophecy: because Vasya is in possession of magical abilities. I particularly loved the following quote, given both the ideas of a woman who doesn't conform and a woman with magical power.

'"Vasya." [Sasha] made his tone cold, an antidote to the reckless laughter lurking in her eyes. "What do you think will become of you, living in darkness with devils, and doing black magic?"
"I?" she shot back. "I am becoming myself, brother. I am a witch, and I am going to save us."
"Sasha, do not be afraid for me."
"I am, though," he said. "For your life and for your soul."
"They are both in my keeping, and not yours," she said gently.'

There is such a definace in calling herself a witch, of embracing all the aspects of herself that the world have told her are wrong. To me, it's the ultimate declaration of self-love. She will be who she is, and to hell with those who have spurned her. Except, not to hell with them. Because being who she is, she is the only one who's able to keep those who spurned her alive. If she allowed herself to be cowed, if she became who they wanted her to be - small, meek, mild - they would have no chance of getting out of what comes, alive. To me, those two sentences - "I am becoming myself, brother. I am a witch, and I am going to save us," - sum up Vasya perfectly, and are her battle cry, and I fell even more in love with her for her declaration.

The Winter of the Witch is probably my favourite of the lot, but The Winternight Trilogy, as a whole, is absolutely incredible. Enchanting storytelling, beautiful writing, and a completely engrossing world full of folklore, fairy tales, and Russian history. It has absolutely everything I would want from a fantasy series, and I completely adore it. It's definitely one I'll come back to again and again. I can't recommend it enough.

You might also like:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Over to you graphic
Have you ever loved the first book in a series so much, you binge read the entire series from start to finish (with or without small breaks for other books)? Do you know of any other books with enchanting storytelling and beautiful writing, that feel like fairy tales? Have you read The Winternight Trilogy? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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