The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden.
We’ve come to the final leg of the journey that has been the Winternight trilogy.
But oh I was wrong. So wrong.
You see Book 3 made me sob. At several places.
There were injustices that were too great to count, faithful friends that lost their lives, wrongful accusations by men who knew they could create a mob against our heroine in just a minute. And that was exactly what happened.
“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.”
Remember the priest Konstantin in Book 1? Never have I loathed a character more in my life.
That good for nothing, devil in disguise priest brought the entire city of Moscow against Vasya because he couldn’t resist her or the Bear who appeared to him. But before I get carried away, let me recap a bit of book 2: The Girl in the Tower.
“Magic is forgetting the world was ever other than as you willed it.
After the Bear or Medved as he is called unleashes the undead on the city of Moscow and the sorcerer comes after Vasya, she manages to save the city from completely burning down by bringing back the Winter King: Morozko. She forces him to bring the winds of winter that will distinguish the fire and is successful.
“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.”
However, even though Vasya practically saved the city, the Grand Prince, her family and everyone else, the people turn against her. They call her a witch, and despite the urges of the Dmitri that a fair trial will be held the Priest leads the entire city against her to her sister’s tower. Vasya acts like she has since day 1 and goes out to face the mob.
“The more one knows, the sooner one grows old,” snapped the domovaya”
The mob shows no mercy to her or her horse, and she is dragged all the way from the city to the lake to be burned. However, can she truly be burnt? Absolutely not!
Our Vasya survives and with the help from an unexpected person she escapes to Midnight and finds her way to the woods. There she finds a home which belonged to someone Vasya is related to and her history becomes clear to her.
“I want Dmitrii’s admiration. I want a victory. I even want power, over princes and chyerti. I am allowed to want things, winter-king.
Now Moscow isn’t safe, and while the Chyerti and rest of the creatures have been scrutinizing what Vasya does, she realizes she can’t be a pawn in a fight between two immortal brothers the Winter King: Morozko and the Bear: Medved. Vasya goes out in Midnight where she can travel anywhere and does what she has to in order to save our family and Moscow.
“Chyerti are sometimes wise and sometimes foolish, sometimes good and sometimes cruel. God rules the next world, but what of this one? Men may seek salvation in heaven and also make offerings to their hearth-spirits, to keep their house safe from evil. Did not God make chyerti, as He made everything else in heaven and earth?”
And while there were so many layers to this last book, I couldn’t help but marvel how beautifully layered and mystically the author created the unseen world. Everything about this last book was marvelous but heartbreaking. There were two deaths that made me almost cry out. I couldn’t accept or believe it and while there is so much at stake, Vasya was hurting and so were we.
“Would you like to meet him?” Vasya asked suddenly. “I?” Olga asked, sounding shocked. Then her lips firmed. “Yes. Even a girl in love with a devil needs someone to negotiate for her.”
I had so many emotions at the end of this book, and for me this book gave me everything I ever wanted from a Fantasy novel. And I loved the way the author included a real battle: The Battle of Kulikovo that was fought by the Grand Prince of Moscow Dmitri. The historical aspect mixed with the fantasy element was a pleasure to read. And the author explains it all in the detail, but for me these words stuck out in her ending note:
“Who is to say, in the end, that the three guardians of Russia, are not a witch, a frost-demon, and a chaos-spirit? I find it fitting”
And fitting indeed it is.
I think one of the main reasons why this book holds such a special place in my heart, is how Vasya continues to move forward even when she wants it all to end. She never, even for a minute thinks of abandoning her family, even when they chastise her or try to hide her away. I particularly loved her relationship with her niece: Marya, who has similar powers like her.
With her we all could see how Vasya tried to impart the wisdom and things no one was there to teach her about. But mostly, Vasya and Solovey were the most loyal friends or partners there ever were. There is so much to love about this book, so much to wonder at, think about that you can’t help but laugh at some points and cry at others.
The Winter of the Witch was a perfect ending to a great series but I do have one grievance.
There should have been more pages. I wanted to know what happens with Marya, her siblings: Alyosha and Irina, and her sister: Olga and her husband Sergei. I wish there was more about their relationship and we weren’t shown Olga alone all the time.
But in the end, all I can say is that all these books: The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, and The Winter of the Witch are the perfect books for a fantasy lover who wants action, loyalty, romance, magic, world building, and schemes. It truly is wonderful.
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 5.0/5.0
- Favourite Quote: “Love is for those who know the griefs of time, for it goes hand in hand with loss. An eternity, so burdened, would be a torment.”
- Should you read it: yes x infinity.
- Reader level: you won’t face any trouble reading or understanding the Russian words as the author explains them all clearly in the end notes.
- Would I read it again: how can I not? Vasya is a character worthy of revisiting time and time again.
Till next time,