Writer: Katherine Arden
Publishing House: Random House UK
Date of Publication: January 10th 2019
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Yesterday she saved your life, slew a wicked magician, set fire to Moscow and then saved it all in a single night. Do you think she will consent to disappear, for the price of a dowry- for any price? Do you know my sister?’’
It is seldom that the third book of a trilogy ends up being the finest. However, this is exactly what happened with The Winter of the Witch. The final installment of a saga created with absolute beauty and dark grace by Katherine Arden is one to remember and cherish, in a trilogy that defied all genres and labels, making its way to be a classic. I firmly believe that The Winternight Trilogy will keep company to generations of readers who will fall in love with the wealth of the Russian culture, the myths, the legends, the traditions.
‘’But she saw the devils, despite the dark. There were silhouetted atop roofs and walls: domoviye and dvorovije and banniki, the faint house-spirits of Moscow. They were there, but what could they do but watch? Chyerti are formed by the currants of human life; they ride them, but they do not interfere.’’
Three things are the ones that make the trilogy perfect: a supreme heroine, the exquisite descriptions of the Russian landscape and the theme of the never-ending battle between the old world and the new, the pagan beliefs and the Christian religion. All these elements are done to perfection in the 3rd book. As Vasya fights for survival, justice, and balance, she undertakes a long journey to a harsh, mystical haunting realm. Arden’s writing is extraordinarily beautiful as we are wondering in the land of Midnight or the scorching Moscow summer.
The scenery changes and changes and along with it Vasya is transformed. The glorious city, the realms of magic, everything is a part of a greater world and everything is a link in a chain that must not break because a dangerous foe is approaching, a horde that doesn’t care for the old and the new, desiring to establish its own dynasty.
(Koshchei by Viktor Vasnetsov (1926) )
Arden gives us princesses and princes, knights and priests. Wise women, artists, animals touched by magic. Demons and spirits of nature. The entire Russian folklore lives in the pages of the book and it never looked more beautiful, more mystical, more threatening. Marya Morevna, the Baba Yaga, the Firebird and the chyerti, the domovoi and the upyr in a particularly powerful, shocking chapter. Polunochnitsa and her dark domain, Poludennitsa, the Midday demon, the horses of legends, the women graced (or cursed) with the Sight. These are the pawns of the fight between the living and what they can’t see, the world they can’t believe in. The division that feeds their need to destroy what they fear because they are unable to understand.
(Polunochnitsa and Poludennitsa)
‘’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.’’
I cannot begin to tell you how much I adore the relationship between Vasya and Morozko and here their dynamic is more electrifying than ever. Is it strange and dark and possibly twisted? Well, it may be and this is exactly what makes me love them so much. They are my favourite literary couple, after Heathcliff and Catherine, and yes, I know I am weird. Vasya continues to remain one of my favourite female protagonists, not only because of her bravery and determination but mostly because Arden chose to make her as real as she could given the premise of the story. She doesn’t refrain from fear and insecurity and despair or even one or two questionable decisions and this is how you create a believable, relatable main character in a fantasy setting. Strange as it may sound, though, the character I was always anxious to meet in a chapter was Konstantin. He is desperate and lost and all sorts of confused and you cannot help but be hypnotized by his presence. His chemistry with Vasya is explosive.
So, I am sad to leave the Winternight universe. A trilogy created through haunting sceneries, an exceptional cast of characters, impeccable dialogue and endless respect to the immortal heritage of the Russian tradition, Katherine Arden, thank you for three marvelous journeys.
‘’Men fear what they do not understand’’, murmured the Bear. ‘’They hurt you. They beat you, spat on you, put you in the fire. Men will suck all the wilderness out of the world until there is no place for a witch0girl to hide. They will burn you and your kind.’’
Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.