Tag Archives: Russian folklore

#BookReview ‘The Winter of the Witch’ by @arden_katherine #fantasy

What a barnstorming end to a trilogy this is. The Winter of the Witch is the final part of the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden, a bewitching at times bewildering combination of Russian history, folklore, magic and fantasy. It’s the sort of book with depths that reward re-reading, weaving connections with the first two books into a finale that is both satisfying and heart-wrenching. Katherine Arden

These are books about fitting in, and not fitting in, of being different, and finding your own way in a complicated sometimes mystifying world. Arden sets her tale in medieval Russia, adds layers of magic and Russian myth, woven together with the true story of the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. She handles such a complex mixture with an assured, inspired hand. In my 2017 review of the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, I described it as ‘not an easy read, but rewarding’ and I repeat that again for The Winter of the Witch. You have to pay attention, make connections, take fictional leaps of imagination, but you are rewarded.

As Vasya’s magical powers grow, so do the dangers to the traditional ways of life in old ‘Rus. No longer a girl but a hardened fighter, a young woman determined to do what is right, but still not immune to doubt, indecision and to love. As she performs more magic she knows she is danger of losing her grip on real life, of descending into madness, but must decide whether to save herself or to save those she loves. Vasya is an inspiring heroine, throwing herself into adventures against the will and advice of those around her, finding allies in unexpected places and facing enemies with a brave heart. My favourite characters included Solovey, Vasya’s magnificent bay stallion, and Ded Grib, the tiny mushroom chyert.

Moscow is burning and Vasya is to be burnt at the stake as a witch. If she can escape, she must leave behind everyone and everything she loves. Meanwhile a dark priest in Moscow is evangelising the people against the old ways and the chyerti, the folklore spirits,  while the Tatars are threatening war against ‘Rus. Grand Prince Dimitri must unite the Russian princes to defend their lives.

I’m sad to finish these books but now I will revisit them again, this time reading them back-to-back in the hope of understanding more of the complex layers of folklore. The world-building reminds me of Tolkien and Pullman in its depth and breadth.

Read my reviews of the first two books in the Winternight trilogy:-
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Girl in the Tower

If you like this, try:-
Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi
La Belle Sauvage’ by Philip Pullman
In Another Life’ by Julie Christine Johnson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by @arden_katherine #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Girl in the Tower

Katherine ArdenThere is so much to The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, follow-up to The Bear and the Nightingale. A strong female heroine, magical mystical Russian folklore, fighting, horses and danger. Vasya is an awkward teenage girl in the mythical Middle Ages of old ‘Rus who does not like her traditional choice of marriage or convent; in The Girl in the Tower she is older and more defiant. You just know she is heading for trouble. She leaves home to wander and look at the world, refusing to worry about survival in the winter forest, and in so doing stumbles into banditry and violence that has implications for the power of the throne. I read the second half of this at a pace, wanting to know the outcome, not wanting it to end.

A faster-paced book than the first of the series, the two are tightly linked and so I hesitate to give away too much plot. Disguised as a boy, Vasya cannot help but attract attention despite the warnings of her magnificent stallion Solovey. Her exploits bring her to the attention of Dimitri, the Grand Prince of Moscow, and red-haired lord Kasyan Lutovich. Feted for her fearless fighting, Vasya’s disguise becomes more difficult to protect. Reunited with her brother Sasha, the monk who is Dimitri’s best friend and adviser, Vasya must maintain her disguise or risk the lives of her family. The secret must be kept at any cost.

It is a pleasure to read these books, confident that author Katherine Arden has a supreme hold on her material, the legends and the world she has created. And in Vasya she has a heroine who confronts evil in its many forms – the human sort of swords, ambition, bigotry and malicious words – and the superhuman sort of gods and demons, a firebird and magic jewels that confer control. Arden describes this world, and Vasya’s adventures, beautifully. In this second novel she grows from a teenager to a young woman, bringing with it an awareness of attraction and a kiss with a frost-demon. In parallels with heroes of other fantasy fiction – Philip Pullman, JK Rowling – Vasya shows respect for people and creatures which others may ignore and demean, so earning their loyalty and support at critical moments.

These are adult fantasy tales, complicated, dense and a rollicking read. A quite unusual combination. Can’t wait for the third in the series.

Read here how Katherine Arden was enchanted by Russia when she was eighteen.
Read my review of the first Winternight book, The Bear and the Nightingale.

If you like this, try these:-
‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen
‘The Seventh Miss Hatfield’ by Anna Caltabiano
‘The Magicians’ by Lev Grossman

‘The Girl in the Tower’ by Katherine Arden, #2 Winternight Series [UK: Del Rey]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by @arden_katherine #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2YK via @SandraDanby