Published: 10th January 2019
Started reading: March 10
Finished reading: March 19
Moscow is in flames, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to blame. Vasilisa, a girl with extraordinary gifts, must flee for her life, pursued by those who blame their misfortune on her magic.
Then a vengeful demon returns, stronger than ever. Determined to engulf the world in chaos, he finds allies among men and spirits. Mankind and magical creatures alike find their fates resting on Vasya’s shoulders.
But she may not be able to save them all.
A glorious final chapter to a magical trilogy. It was almost bittersweet to reach the last page, for I have been captivated by this fantastical story, beautifully written and inspired by the breadth of Russian history and folklore.
The trilogy as a whole represents so many of the reasons why we love to read. It provides the escape of immersing oneself in a fictional world, albeit one based on historical Russia. It introduced me to Vasya, who has quickly become one of my all-time favourite literary protagonists. And I also learned so much through reading the series. All of these things are priceless.
I did actually have a couple of issues with this book, which I shall get to later. However, the first thing to say about The Winter of the Witch is that if you thought the first two books of the trilogy are incredibly well-written, here it reaches a whole new level of brilliance.
The writing is simply spectacular. Every description, every speck of detail, every word of dialogue. All of it is truly spellbinding, told with the purest of refinement, as bewitching as Vasya’s magic. I was glued to every word, struck by Arden’s skill as she weaves sentences together in the style of a Romantic poet.
This subtlety is present throughout, even during the most intense scenes of battle. Some powerful themes emerge over the course of the book and are felt most towards the end, where it did become a bit of an emotional read. I made a lot of highlights on my Kindle!
One of the most impressive things about the trilogy has been the level of character depth. Arden really has an excellent understanding of her characters, and how they compliment one another. In this book Vasya is faced with all kinds of situations, but her spirit and valiant tenacity make her so engaging.
The mutual enmity between Vasya and Konstantin is one of the highlights of the book. Konstantin is such a complex character, and intriguing to read. The chyerti are all fabulously imagined, including Morozko, the ethereal frost demon. His story, and that of his brother Medved, takes some interesting and unexpected turns.
Vasya often treads a fine line between heroism and recklessness, but this just makes her seem more real, and her undying conscience and selflessness are what help to make her so likeable. I was happy with how her story ended. Reading the author’s note, it was interesting to find out that several of the other characters are based on real people and events.
The main setting for the book is the land of Midnight, which definitely gave me His Dark Materials vibes! It was evocative and I like the ideas that went into it, even if I found some of them slightly difficult to grasp.
Now for my main issues. One is that I found the pace of the novel to be a bit slow and inconsistent. The other is that at times the plot was meandering, lacking flow, and going back and forth. That had no effect on the quality of the writing, but it did feel like two stories in one. This sadly stops me from awarding five stars – I really, really wanted to!
But overall, this book, and indeed the whole of the series, is a phenomenal piece of work. I have enjoyed journeying through it and I cannot wait to see what Katherine Arden comes up with next.
A magnificently written book where every word carried considerable meaning, and an excellent end to a great trilogy. A more flowing plot, and it would have been something close to perfection.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐