Fantasy

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch

I’ve taken a week to formulate my thoughts about the mesmerising finale of Arden‘s Winternight Trilogy. I’m afraid my emotions are still all over the place and I do apologise in advance for extensive gushing.

Let’s first back up a bit. The Winter of the Witch is the third book in the series and I do not recommend reading it as a standalone book as it heavily leans into its previous instalments. On the flip side, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, you have quite a treat waiting for you. There are full of magic, highly atmospheric and I do dare to agree with Amalia and her beautiful review of this book – I also think this trilogy is ‘making its way to be a classic‘.

The Bear and the Nightingale started this magical series with a highly atmospheric, coming of age story. I got to meet Vasya and I immediately fell in love with Arden‘s writing, her clever story telling and all that Slavic folklore, which always screams ‘HOME‘ to me whenever I am exposed to it.

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, turns darker. The innocence of youth is long gone and Vasya, a young adult, is determined to travel the world. Its tone is different – it’s not only that darkness but also its faster pace that contrasts the first book. It’s a roller coaster of events and I could not put it down.

The Winter of the Witch starts exactly where The Girl in the Tower ended. You can sense the torment medieval Moscow is experiencing, you can feel the fear her people are immersed in. The beginning is DARK…. and it gets darker, much much darker.

It’s rare to be amazed by all books in a series but that is the case of Winternight Trilogy – I do not know how it’s possible that every book makes me so sad when it’s over and every time I read those books I keep on thinking ‘this is why I read‘. It makes my heart sing, it makes me happy on so many levels. Arden‘s characters are believable and complex. Vasya is not beautiful and her appearance is utterly irrelevant. It is who she is as a person that counts. She is set on a quest, makes mistakes, asks for help, admits her flaws and owns all of it.

The Winter of the Witch explores Vasya‘s dark side. What I enjoyed in particular was her interaction with Medved (the Bear). Medved is a clear antagonist. In a perfect hero / anti-hero tradition, Medved almost completes Vasya and despite him behaving terribly and doing unacceptable things, you almost get to like him. Something I always appreciate when reading about villains.

And then there is Morozko (Frost Demon). Not portrayed as a monster but rather as someone, who can feel human emotions and who can care despite being terrified of it. A very minor spoiler ahead: yes, he is featured in this book and yes, Vasya doesn’t forget him. 😊

‘’I am a witch’’, said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. ‘’I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.’’ She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. ‘’I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.’’

This book is full of action, features battles, moments of sadness when lives are lost, moments of hope when Vasya steps into her power and utterly charming moments of magic when Vasya travels the Midnight road to start her new quest.

I appreciate how Arden mixes old and new beliefs together. How this book is not just about what you believe in but how strongly you believe it. Fans of Gaiman‘s American Gods will enjoy this messaging for sure!

I also enjoyed reading Arden‘s parting comments, in which she shares Russian history and explains how some of her characters got to be. Some of them are based on real historical figures. I do recommend reading this section as it is a fascinating read.

I loved everything about this book, its pace, well developed characters, that feeling of bittersweetness and Arden‘s gorgeous writing. Russian folklore, medieval setting, atmospheric descriptions… it will all steal your hearts.

To me, it’s an utter perfection. I could have easily read it in a day but forced myself to read it over seven days to prolong this magical journey. I cherished those evenings I could read yet another chapter of this book.

I’ll leave you with a question: “if someone lives in our thoughts, does it mean that person still exists”?

I firmly believe so.

I would like to thank both the publisher, Penguin Random House UK as well as the author, for proving me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ❤️


Over to you: have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, are you planning on doing so?

Happy reading and thanks for stopping by. 📚❤️

 

Bookish

T5W – Books You Want to Read Before the End of the Year

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam@Thoughts on Tomes over on Goodreads.

This week’s topics for the Top 5 Wednesday series is: Books You Want to Read Before the End of the Year.

I must admit I am slightly worried that once I admit I want to read something, I am likely not read it. I am notorious for obsessing over a book, buying it, looking at it…. and not reading it. So please bear that in mind, and yes, I have a problem, I know! 😉

  • Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (release date: 25th September 2018)
Small Spaces cover
Small Spaces cover

I adore Arden‘s books. Her The Bear and The Nightingale is one of my favourite books. Arden’s lyrical prose is something I can not get enough of. Small Spaces is supposed to be a middle grade ‘spooky’ book. I am thinking a perfect Halloween read! 🙂

  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock Cover

Because so many of my trusted reviewers loved this book. Also, it was shortlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018. I read so many excited reviews and I am looking forward to reading it very shortly.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief
The Book Thief cover

Because it’s supposed to be about a girl during WWII. Because everyone I know who read it loved it, and because I am living under a rock and haven’t read it yet. 🙂

  • I really want to re-read Steinbeck‘s novels. The one I’m hoping to read again this year is East of Eden – John Steinbeck
East of Eden
East of Eden cover

To be honest, I am pretty sure I read it but I am not entirely sure I have. My poor memory says: “the blurb sounds familiar and you read pretty much everything of Steinbeck as he is one of your favourite authors”… but I am not certain. So I will re-visit! I am slightly scared that I will change my mind (I think I loved it…) but hey, you never know until you try. 🙂

  • Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas (release date: 7th August 2018)
Catwoman
Catwoman cover

Because Maas has such a fun writing style. It’s a roller-coaster of action after action. There’s also lots of humour and snarkiness and this just screams ‘perfect fun summer read‘ to me. Can’t wait to get my hands on it. 🙂 Side note: not an fan of the cover though so eBook it is. 🙂

There you have it. My five books I’m hoping to read this year. Please don’t hold me to it! 🙂


Over to you my friends!

  • Have you read any of those?
  • What book are you looking forward to reading this year?
Fantasy

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The wonderful Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I think her wisdom can also be applied to books.

I have a memory of a goldfish and hardly ever remember what I just read. But I never, ever forget how I felt when I read a certain book.

Why am I telling you this?

The Bear and the Nightingale triggered an emotion in me I cannot forget.

It brought me nostalgia, that bittersweet feeling of sadness mixed with longing and laughter.

It transported me back to my childhood. Back to when my grandma would tuck me underneath a blanket whilst reading me stories of Rusalka. Back to when she would tell me about Mrazík (Morozko) before she would kiss me goodnight. I terribly miss her, and I would give anything to hear her reading me one more tale. Seeing those old folk stories in The Bear and the Nightingale brought me my nana back.

 

bear and nightingaleLet’s get the summary of the book from GoodReads first:

A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

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.

It’s not a fast-paced story at all. To me, The Bear and the Nightingale was all about its atmosphere.

There is a poetic feel to it. The slow pace of its story reminded me of sitting in the woods whilst watching a river go slowly by, enjoying the warmth of sun on my face.

Because of Arden’s skilled writing, you can feel being cold in the Russian winter woods. You can also experience that creepy anticipation of terror as something bad is hiding in the dark corner of your room.

 

The narrator is Vasya / Vasilisa and we follow her a coming-of-age story. There is a powerful sense of innocence mixed with ancient wisdom as she learns to trust her intuition whilst honouring her traditions. There is also a sense of uncertainty as old beliefs are disappearing and new ones are becoming ‘the truth’. That reminded of Neil Gaiman’s American Goods.

“It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.” 

I liked Vasya for her feistiness as well as for her values. It is a fierce character that can be stubborn and sometimes hasty. But she evolves and that’s why I cared about her.

Side note: I would recommend reading the glossary in the back of the book first to anyone without any Slavic language knowledge. It can be utterly confusing seeing several, sometimes very differently sounding names, being referred to the same person. For example Sasha (Saša) is the shortened version of Alexander and Alexandra. I can see how that could put someone off this book.

To her credit, Arden remained true to how Russians would call each other, and I really appreciate it. It wasn’t just a book set in ‘Old Russia’, I felt I was there because it seemed authentic. (Cough cough, still can’t get over Daughter of Smoke & Bone and how ‘un-Czech’ most of those Czech characters felt…. sorry, just saying…).

I highly recommend The Bear and the Nightingale to anyone who enjoys atmospheric books as well as Slavic fairy tales.

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple 5/5

Random facts about my name: My name is Vera. In Czech it is Věra. The Russian meaning of my name is faith (вера). My name can be softened to show an affection to Věruška. My Czech family and friends also call me VěrkaVěrča or Věruš. 🙂