Published: 10th January 2017
Started reading: December 13
Finished reading: December 23
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
This book was only a recent addition to my TBR, but I decided to pick it up after seeing it recommended as an ideal wintry read. And as I got further into the story, I definitely began to feel those vibes as it slowly develops into a strong and powerfully written book that is packed full of atmosphere and mystique.
There were a lot of aspects that I really liked. It is a bit slow to get going to begin with, but this patient build-up helps to establish all of the characters, and gradually introduce the fantasy elements. As a result, the book contains great depth, and is able to effectively explore several ideas and concepts.
A sense of atmosphere feels present throughout. The author places a lot of emphasis on the settings and uses them to conjure some powerful imagery, with the way they are described making them feel vivid and very well-drawn. In addition to that, we have the frequent references to the weather, and the magical creatures and spirits that inhabit them.
The vivid depiction of these creatures is one of the things that demonstrates the level of detail that went into writing this book. It is very well researched, and I really admire how the author uses Russian history and folklore as such a central part of the story. I learned a number of new words, but luckily there is a glossary at the end!
Vasya makes for a wonderful and fascinating protagonist, definitely one of the best female leads I have come across lately. She is strong-willed and adventurous, but also endearingly rebellious. As the book moves on we gradually find out more about her and the abilities she possesses, but it will be interesting to see how she develops during the rest of the series.
The one slight issue I had was that Vasya was sometimes accused of being a witch by the villagers, but I found that side of the book a little under-developed. I also thought Anna and Konstantin were very compelling characters, but could have been explored a bit more.
I liked the writing style right from the beginning. It is engaging and at times poetic, with some inventive descriptions and use of adjectives, while accommodating the Russian vocabulary. There was the occasional line that lacked genuine meaning, and sometimes it could have been more concise, but that did not have much of a negative effect.
It conveyed a high level of storytelling, and helped to allow the pace to build towards a dramatic conclusion. The ending was actually very good, and perfectly sets up the next book in the series.
Overall, this is a very good fantasy read, full of ideas and imagination. Always intriguing and at times gripping, the atmosphere made it easy to immerse myself in the settings, while Vasya never ceased to be an interesting character. The rest of the trilogy looks promising…
Katherine Arden was born in Texas, but developed a knowledge and interest of Russia through studying Russian at college and a period living in Moscow.
She wrote most of The Bear and the Nightingale in Hawaii, and has since written the other two books in the trilogy, with the final part, The Winter of the Witch, to be released in 2019.
Unfailingly atmospheric, this was a captivating read with a fine protagonist. I am looking forward to continuing with the series…
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐