Book Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden ★★★★

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“He spoke of Russia. Not Muscovy, or Tver, or Vladimir, the principalities of the sons of Kiev, but of Russia itself, of its skies and its soil, its people and its pride.

She listened in rapt stillness, eyes vast and filled like cups with shadow. “That is what we are fighting for,” said Sasha. “Not for Moscow, or even Dmitrii; not for the sake of any of her squabbling princes. But for the land that bore us; man and devil alike.””

Another fantastic finale! I was really pleased with how this series came to a close and I think this final installment might be the strongest book yet. It was very well done!

This third book in the series started off right where The Girl in the Tower ended, jumping right into the aftermath of the fire in Moscow. We are immediately thrust into the action, and the suspense, as the consequences of the fire come to fruition, as people of Moscow start to blame Vasya for their misfortune. The whole first section of the book focuses on Vasya being punished (and nearly burned) for being a witch.

It is extremely nerve wracking and anxious to read, as the priest Konstantin riles up the mob enough to get them to attack Vasya, kill her horse (which I was thoroughly gutted by), beat her, and throw her in a cage on top of a burning pyre. The priest is an infuriating character, but so authentic and frightening to read about, with his self-righteous manner and religious guilt. He embodies a type of villain that wholeheartedly scares me and angers me in equal measures. The first hundred or so pages were edge of your seat intense and I sped through them. It wasn’t until almost a third into the book, that things slowed down enough for us to take a breath.

Then, the pacing of the book remained steady. There were a few parts in the middle of the story that seemed to drag a little bit and some scenes felt repetitive (maybe some could have been pared down a little more in the editing process), but overall it was quite evenly paced.

I enjoyed that we were given snippets of the story from multiple perspectives, as we did in the last book. It was nice to read from not only Vasya’s point of view, but Sasha’s, the Grand Prince’s, Olga’s, the priest’s. It made for an interesting and well rounded narrative. It was also so fascinating to see how the different characters rationalized their own choices/behavior or tried to convince themselves that magic was not real. Their thoughts were very intriguing throughout the book. This also allowed us to see how the characters grew over the course of the novel, and the series as a whole. I just loved the complete picture that we were given.

I love how we learned more about each of the characters, as well, how everyone played a bigger role in the plot this time around. I was so interested in Varvara and her story, and how it connected so closely to Vasya, Olga, and Marya’s. Getting to know the origin of Vasya’s heritage and her mother’s story was great, as well. The story of Koschei and Tamara and Baba Yaga (or close enough) was endlessly interesting to me. Many of the chyerti were more fleshed out this time around, too. The Firebrid (who is also Pozhar the sassy golden, fire horse), Midnight, the various domoviye, Morozko, and the Bear were all given more nuance, page time, and depth. We got to see their goals, opinions, and growth on a much larger scale in this final book. We even met some new chyerti and magical beings. I loved Ded Grib dearly; he was such a precious little voice in an otherwise pretty tense book.

The stakes here were raised even higher than the previous installments, if that is possible. Everything that has been building over the course of the trilogy comes to a head. The central conflicts all reach a tipping point: the feud between the Tatars and the Russians, the war between paganism and Christianity, which in turn creates tension between the chyerti and the humans. Vasya and her struggle to fight her own nature, caught between two worlds. It is very well written and each important part of the story is given time to unravel and then explode in a very satisfying manner. I love how the author perfectly blended Russian mythology with Russian history, magic with real events. It was so exciting and beautifully written. The atmosphere throughout the book is perhaps my favorite part, because it is so lush and powerful. The ending was so intense! I was anxious reading the whole thing and then the emotional toll was so heartbreaking and touching, as well, with Sasha and Solovey especially. I was very near tearing up at multiple scenes close to the end there.

I really loved the fight over religion and who would win out in controlling the humans, and thus the world. It is such an interesting topic that I have always enjoyed studying. To have a possible truce fall into Vasya’s hands was a great way to blend reality and fantasy here. Her character growth from the first book was amazing. She learned to use her strengths to her advantage and learned to control her more brutal, chaotic desires, as well. I really liked the exploration into her character and how she tried for so long to deny her harsher, Bear-like, nature. The interactions between her and Medved were some of my favorites of the whole book.

I also truly loved the romance and how that played out in the end. It was so steady and reassuring. There were none of the tricks or manipulations or bittersweet endings that I expected. It was actually very satisfying, and I loved how much respect and support both Morozko and Vasya gave to one another. And that bathhouse scene was spicy, my god! I wasn’t sure we’d even get a scene like that and I was a little dubious going into it (because of his state of mind and her age/inexperience), but it ended up being pretty great. And pretty hot. Especially given how cold it was 😂. I was a fan!

Overall, I thought this was a really amazing way to wrap up the series and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. The author took such care to give us an authentic, respectful Russian story and I appreciate that so much. The writing was gorgeous, the tale was exciting, and the characters were unforgettable. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this series and I am glad to have it on my shelf. I will for sure be adding this to my list of best Russian fantasy retellings/”Russian stories that are actually good and not just using Slavic sounding words to try and make their stories sound cool.” And I will definitely be watching for whatever the author writes next!

Ok, I don’t even like horses and that ending had my whiskers trembling.

Thank you for reading!

Title: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3)
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Fantasy |Historical Fiction | Fairy Tales | Literature Fiction | Russian Folklore | Mythology
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Page Count: 384 pages
Buy It: Wordery Book Depository

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