Finishing this book was like letting out the biggest sigh of awe and wonder. This book was a culmination of stories from the beginning of the trilogy, with a resolution that quite honestly made me tear up with satisfaction. Also, say what you will about the secondary romance element, but in a story with the breadth and depth of this trilogy? Super well done.
Warning: This is the third and final book of the Winternight Trilogy, so expect spoilers from the previous two books!
THE WINTER OF THE WITCH
by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, January 2019
Fairy tale fantasy, historical
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies
ARC provided by Katherine Arden (thank you thank you thank you!)
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.
This is probably the ONE book I’m reviewing this year that hasn’t come out yet, and again, many thanks to the lovely author for giving me an advanced copy so I could finish Vasya’s journey. And holy firebird, what a journey it’s become!
As with the previous book, this one continues straight after the events of The Girl in the Tower. Vasya has unveiled the secrets of Kaschei and released the firebird from its golden cage. This brings about the unintended result of a firestorm in Moscow, and it takes much of the winter-king’s powers–and Vasya’s–to put things aright. With the end of the snows and Morozko’s waning strength, Vasya fends for herself in the assault against her–magical and non-magical.
I’m not gonna lie, the end of The Girl in the Tower made me wonder if I would see a certain winter-king again, and whether it would end well between him and Vasya. I came off of a really good slow-burn new adult novel (see: A Court of Mist and Fury) and after the atmosphere of The Winter of the Witch‘s predecessors, I knew I was hunkering down for the culmination of what I thought was a slow-burn romance. And oooohhh boy, it pays off. That fight. That bathhouse. That scene. That smell of frost and pine. It couldn’t get any more steamy, am I right?! Swoon.
But I want to backtrack first to the harrowing beginning. Unlike the slow starts of the first two books, Winter of the Witch took Vasya out of the oven and threw her quite literally into the fire. Because of how Arden’s written the books–and how atmospheric her stories have been–the scene in the beginning was difficult to get through and caused me to have a slight meltdown where Solovey was concerned. I just…it was bleak OMG and then Konstantin heightens the witch-hunt with his craziness and anti-demon psychobabble (also, WHY hasn’t this guy died yet like, seriously, if Kaschei the Immortal managed to perish in the end of book 2, how has this guy managed to make it to book 3?!).
To credit Vasya and those who seek to keep her alive, though, she manages to survive to fight another day, all the while refusing the help of both the winter-king and his brother, Medved (because of course she would be stubborn at a time where she’s on the verge of being burned alive). Fear not, because she takes the road to Midnight’s lair, and, well, she discovers things about her heritage that made me absolutely squee.
So let’s talk about this heritage for a bit. Arden throws more homage to Russian folklore here. The firebird takes a bigger role in this book (which explains the beautiful cover) as do various fairy tale creatures straight from Russian legend. There are the usual household spirits, but also the spirits found within the demon world. There’s also the appearance of one of my favorite Russian fairy tale figures ever: Baba Yaga. I mean, I waited this long for an appearance, and Arden’s tie-in with her story (and how she’s related to Vasilisa Petrovna squeeee) was just mind-blowingly good. Like many retellings of Baba Yaga, though, this particular witch is cantankerous, a little bit mad, and absolutely fantastic. She lives in a hut at the edge of Midnight, and throughout the story little homages of the actual Baba Yaga tales are added in (we also find out that Midnight is one of Baba Yaga’s three horsemen–or, in this case, horsewomen).
Anyway, there are a lot of characters that are highlighted in this book, and mostly because the story is split into three parts: Vasya’s escape and survival through Midnight, the freeing of Morozko and fight against Konstantin and Medved’s legion of the dead (hands down my favorite arc), and the penultimate battle of the Mongolian army against the supernatural and human denizens of Russia. Medved–who, from the first two books, is pretty much thrown in as a catalystic chaos-spirit–gets a wonderful showing in this book. We get some really good Medved scenes in Winter of the Witch, and to be honest, while I absolutely hated Konstantin from the very beginning of the trilogy, I thought his constant downward spiral was well written, and ironically the pair-up of Konstantin and the One-Eyed Bear humanizes Medved. Which, if you look at it, kind of mirrors how Vasya’s relationship with the winter-king humanizes Morozko…but who’s drawing parallels?! (ME, YES, NO SHAME.)
I loved this book so much. It had everything I loved about Russian folklore and thensome. It had twists and turns I somewhat expected, and others that I didn’t but ended up absolutely delighting in. It had a main character who–while I did question her decisions from time to time–managed to come to her own power, independent of the stronger powers of others. It had a romance that made me swoon because it was worth its slow-burn, and yet it wasn’t the focus of the book; however, when the witch and the winter-king worked together, it was magic in all manner of speaking.
5 out of 5 cookies! Now…where’s my hot cocoa? I could do with reading this again.