book review: the winter of the witch by katherine arden

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Del Rey Books, 384 pp.
Published January 8, 2019

DISCLAIMER: I received a free physical ARC of this title from the publisher for review purposes. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

You'll LOVE it want a satisfying conclusion to the Winternight trilogy.

There are so many plots and sub-plots at work in this series, it almost seems impossible to neatly tie all of them off (but Arden does anyway because, of course). The most important—to me and, I suspect, many others as well—remains that of Vasya's fundamental conflict with herself. For two novels we have watched her grapple with the love she bears her family, the reverence she carries for the domovoi and other magical creatures, the expectations medieval Russia places on a young woman of her age and station, and the question we all ask ourselves as we approach adulthood: who am I? How marvelous it is, then, for fans to watch Vasya grow into who she was meant to be from the opening pages of The Bear and the Nightingale.

Although this series has never been specifically marketed as YA, Vasya is a character I think all teenage girls should meet. Through her readers can see the turmoil and indecision that precede acts of rebellion, as well as how a rejection of your family's preconceived notions does not always mean a rejection of your family themselves. Beneath the snowy wonder of medieval Russia and its legends, the Winternight trilogy is an exploration and celebration of one girl's journey into womanhood. In The Winter of the Witch, Vasya is all grown up and a marvel to behold.

You'll WEEP ship Vasya and Morozko.

No spoilers, I promise! All I mean to say is that their relationship continues to develop in breathtaking, heart-wrenching fashion. What I adore most about this relationship is everything how a mortal girl and immortal creature can challenge and influence one another without changing the other's fundamental character. Too often this kind of romance in literature reinforces the steep power dynamics at play. Arden subverts that template at every opportunity, bringing Vasya and Morozko closer to an understanding; this journey does not pass without sacrifice, but it is the small concessions, rather than the grand gestures, that speak the loudest.

You'll FREAKING ADORE it just read it, okay?

Can you tell yet that I'm obsessed with this series and this absolutely flawless finish? If you've read the first two Winternight novels I sincerely cannot find any detail that will disappoint you in the final book. If you haven't read the first two Winternight novels: step away from the screen, beeline to your local bookseller or library, and change that pronto! Then re-read that second sentence again. The Winter of the Witch marries the wintry magical realism of The Bear and the Nightingale with the increased political intrigue of The Girl in the Tower, their inevitable clash bringing equal parts panache and poignancy. By story's end you will be sad to bid farewell to your favorite characters, but content with how you've left them. And there's no more beautiful way to end a tale than that.


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