"There are no monsters in the world, and no saints. Only infinite shades woven into the same tapestry, light and dark. One man's monster is another man's beloved. The wise know that."
The Winter of he Witch was the finale to the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two instalments, but this was still by far my favourite of the series with its great conclusion to the story and wonderful culmination of events.
The impressive aspects of the previous two books such as the unique characters and interesting plot continued and developed once again. Each book in the trilogy improves on its predecessor and I found this was consistently intriguing and faster paced than the first two instalments.
I enjoyed the Winter of the Witch all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed how the climax was much larger than before with multiple conflicts arising to a greater scale. The action sequences were well written and gripping as the tension grew and greater dangers arose. There were large scale battles for the first time and they were depicted in a vivid and immersive manner. It felt epic, with an appropriate build in tension and scale from book 1 to book 3.
"Not one life lost is worth the price of my grief. Do you think that I'm a fool, that you can drip words like sweet poison in my ear? I am not your ally, monster, nor will I ever be."
I have enjoyed from the start the realism combined with the faery-tale style, with historically authentic difficulties faced in medieval Russia, such as wealth, invasion and social hierarchy. Arden created a great balance of these themes with heroism, tragedy and magic. All things that I love to read about in novels I dedicate myself too.
Historical events were wonderfully blended with fantastical elements during the key moments in the novel and continued that brilliant aspect of the story. The Russian mythological culture was expanded and played a more prominent role in this final instalment, and was one of the reasons that I love this book.
"It is not for men and women to presume what the Lord wishes. That way lies evil, when men put themselves too high, saying, I know what God wants, for it is also what I want."
The Winter of the Witch was a great conclusion to the Winternight Trilogy and has left me wishing that there was more to come. I will miss the characters and world that Arden created in the medieval setting of Russia and hope that there is a return to it one day.
"Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet."
The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. It continues the interesting introduction of Russian mythology that blends into the faery tale stories, with many of those core aspects of heroism, magic and the supernatural. But it also adds a number of features such as social hierarchy, gender roles and the power of fighting the patriarchal viewpoints of the period.
This book really branched out in terms of the locations depicted. It moved away from the village that The Bear and the Nightingale took place in, and spent a large portion of the book in the extravagant city of Moscow, the capital of Rus. It was a very different setting from the first book, but it was done very well and I enjoyed the challenges Vasya faced in this new world.
"I carve things of wood because things made by effort are more real than things made by wishing."
The plot became more intricate, with multiple stories weaving to and fro, presenting a number of mysteries and events waiting to be solved. I enjoyed the way pieces of information were cleverly trickled to the reader despite the increased pace that the novel adopted. There was one major twist that I predicted early on, but any chance of deflation was overcome through the extra layers that still caused shock. The final phase of the story brought together all the different threads in an excellent manner that I did not anticipate would occur.
Arden writes with a constant fluidity that fit brilliantly with the writing styles I enjoy and allowed me to read from one page to the next and receive enjoyment from every moment in this world.
The historical world building continued and I love the Russian setting and culture that Arden so vividly presents with every minor yet fruitful feature mentioned in her narrative. This aspect is something that I adore as it makes the world realistic with a real depth to it that I wish was included within every book that I read.
"You cannot take vengeance on a whole people because of the doings of a few wicked men."
The magic system matured again but has most definitely not reached its full potential. I hope and imagine the full extent to the system will be revealed in the final of the series. So far it adopts the idea that faith is all that is needed, that someone has to utterly believe the they can do it in order to be successful. I like this idea and it works well with me, even though it was not a unique perspective on the magic system.
The characters had a wide variation from an unusual monk to a frost demon to the main PoV who is battling against the restrictive stereotypes of the period. I enjoyed these characters each in their own right and found that there was no profound weakness with anyone in terms of development.
I enjoyed this book as much as The Bear and the Nightingale. But I was pleased that this book felt more like the formation of a longer story that will continue, instead of a stand-alone that the first novel could have been. It involved me in the plot and has induced a desire to finish the series with The Winter of the Witch.
"We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives."
The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. It blends history and fantasy and is set in medieval Russia during the Mongolian reign. At the heart of this novel is a love of faery tales. But not the simple happy faery sales. It takes those stories and the mythology contained within them, then portrays them in a realistic manner.
The location Arden primarily develops is a village in the northern woods of Rus where the elements cause constant turmoil and terror to the inhabitants. Many spirits from tales reside in this place and help to protect it, or destroy it, depending on their disposition. Most of the villagers are clueless about the presence of these spirits and those that can see them are treated with suspicion and persecution, and are labelled as witches by the fearful. This part of the book was thoroughly enjoyable and it was a fun, unique perspective on the supernatural that I have not encountered before.
"I gave everything for you Vasillisa Petrovna."
"Not everything," said Vasya. "Since clearly your pride is intact, as well as your illusions."
The plot took a slower route throughout this opening to the trilogy and mostly revolves around minor problems until the last phase of the story. The main character encounters a number of challenges, such as the constant problem of battling the expectations of women during this period, which she strongly opposes. A major theme is the change of religion and the conflict between different faiths, both who believe they are right and would resort to violence in order to prove so...
"Sleep is cousin to death, Vasya. And both are mine."
Arden's prose is smooth and can be read in the style of a faery tale. Fluid and light. I found it complemented my reading preferences and, because of its fluidity, I could easily spend long reading sessions without pause.
There is a magic system present throughout the story, but it was not embellished within this instalment. It was something I would have liked to see in a clearer light in this novel, but having read the next two in the series I can see how it was being kept for future plot lines.
"I'd rather my sons living, and my daughters safe, than a chance at glory for unborn descendants."
Arden focused a lot on character building and prioritised it throughout the story. The main character, Vasya, is well-developed and has a depth that I love to read in characters. She is a young child at the beginning of the novel, and the story takes place over a number of years so the reader accompanies her on those pivotal years of her life that will define who she is. As a result I really liked this character and felt a strong attachment to her. But I did not really warm to anyone else. There are many who have positive characteristics, but their negatives often caused me to dislike them. They were all depicted well but I wish I did feel more attached to some.
Overall, The Bear and the Nightingale was a pleasurable read that is the start to a series that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you like mythology, medieval Russia, or a unique take on the supernatural, I recommend this to you.