Book Review : The Winter of the Witch

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Book Review : The Winter of the WitchThe Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3) by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey on January 9th 2019
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Source: NetGalley

In the stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, following The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya returns to save Russia and the spirit realm, battling enemies both mortal and magic.

I was not even sad that the Winternight Trilogy came to end, because The Winter of the Witch was perfectly true to the series and the characters that I came to love so much. On the rare occurrence when I was not entirely thrilled by something that happened in the book, it was still absolutely in character and true to the overall themes of the novel. Katherine Arden is true writing goals—planning where she meant her characters to go and getting them there in ways so suitable that I couldn’t even imagine them, and for weaving in humor and magic throughout her often darktales.


Though this was probably my least favorite out of the trilogy that included The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower—mostly because I’m not a huge fan of reading about battles or preparing for them—I still laughed, wept, and was extremely proud of heroine Vasilisa “Vasya” Petronova. She is the type of female character that audiences are lucky to get every decade or so—one who has power and is not afraid to wield it as she sees fit. A small town girl, Vasya ends up saving her entire country—a feat impressive enough on its own—but she does not stop there. She continually challenges the forces of her time period and its restrictive customs until she can finally squash them. In The Winter of the Witch, Vasya grows into a woman, comes fully into her own powers, and takes the word “witch,” and OWNS it—all  while shattering the traditional consequences women associated with the term “witch’ faced. And she doesn’t apologize for it.


I have been running through the dark, trying to save all who have need of me. I have done good and I have done evil, but I am neither. I am only myself. You will not make me ashamed…..”


Perhaps the hardest—and strongest part of the novel—is that to truly stand on her own feet and come into her own as a magic-wielding witch, author Arden rips away many of Vasya’s few loyal allies at the very beginning of the novel. View Spoiler » But Vasya somehow does not despair, and emerges from the literal fire (of course someone had to try and burn her at least once or it wouldn’t be realistic to the whole witchcraft accusation thing), a blade honed. I could not wait to see what she did next.


Vasya finds the strength to go on, wandering the perilous path of Midnight—a magic road that only appears to those with the Sight, at you guessed it, midnight. This road leads through all the realms during Midnight—as long as the wanderer does not fall asleep, which will trap them in their current realm until next midnight. I thought this was such an amazing and interesting concept. Vasya’s journey was made even better by her finding new allies, including a spunky mushroom, and a firebird in the guise of a horse named Pozhar. Along the way, the legendary Baba Yaga also makes an appearance.


Throughout all of her ordeals, Vasya’s continued strength of character is just so empowering. Through Arden’s lyrical and touching prose, Vasya’s victories were my victories and her setbacks were my setbacks. I do not think I have ever been more attached to a character—let alone one who is so secure in her own power and self. Her entire journey—facing the judgement of those who do not understand, fearing being forced into a convent or into a marriage she didn’t want—is reminiscent of every woman’s struggle, but on a grander, more magical scale. To see her finally triumph over all of her foes and obstacles standing in the way of who she was truly meant to be in The Winter of the Witch was beyond heartening. Vasya is truly every girl’s dream character—a warrior, a witch, and a princess all in one.


“It was never your task to pick out the good from the wicked. Your task was to unite us. We are one people.”


And despite all of those titles—Vasya ends up being even more. Vasya serves as the bridge between men, their new religion, and the old ways of the chyert. Admittedly, at first, I was disheartened that she did not choose to remain in the realms of winter with her paramour and partner, Morozko, but I realized it truly would not have been at all a fitting end for adventurous Vasya. I was stupid to think she could ever be happy with that kind of settled existence—and realized that I had probably been conditioned since childhood to believe that the heroine of every fairytale has to settle down with her man in her own “happily-ever-after.”


Luckily for me, Arden had thought of a much more suitable ending for Vasya. View Spoiler » The rest of the happy ending probably should have been cheesy or felt too perfectly-wrapped up, but not once did it feel like that.


 Somehow Arden makes Vasya’s View Spoiler » And when a character nonchalantly asks Vasya—who was so often confronted with the expectations of her gender and her lack of independence—“Vasya….where do you wish to go?” I was overjoyed that she finally had a choice and that someone cared what this precious girl wanted—that it could have been the last line of the book, with no other explanations, and I would have been perfectly happy.


“I will guard it. And I will watch over my family. And I will ride the world, in between times,through the farthest countries of dark and day. It is enough for one life.”


From the beginning of this trilogy, it was obvious that the author knew where she wanted her character—not just Vasya—to wind up in the end.I especially loved how Arden dealt with the character of Konstantin—View Spoiler » But this is a small blip of discontent in an otherwise wholly great work.


It is also notable that though this novel deals with a lot of heavy material—accusations of witchcraft, riots, murder, the plague, failed childbirth, religion, the gender roles of women, suicide,  and more—the author manages to successfully weave in wit and humor throughout the book too. I often laughed aloud at many of the things the Bear, the most despicable villain from way back in The Bear and the Nightingale said—and even found myself growing fond of him, something I would not have believed possible.


I adored every minute of reading, not only the The Winter of the Witch, but also the entire the Winternight Trilogy, and simply cannot recommend the series enough. It is not often that a series that I love this much is wrapped up in such an artful manner that I would both remain perfectly happy with the ending or jump at the chance to read more of the same characters in future installments. Katherine Arden is an amazing author of whose lyrical prose, beautiful settings, developed characters, and unique ideas sets her apart. She is officially a member of my very short—I-must-read-this-author’s-books-immediately-upon-release-list. These books are perfect for lovers of fantasy, historical fiction, magic, powerful female characters, and romance.


Book Review : The Winter of the Witch - Blogging with Dragons

Posted December 13, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Favorite Books

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