After the burning of Moscow, Vasya finds herself about to be burned after being accused as a witch. Events are spurned by Father Konstantin whose hunt for Vasya is relentless. In the mortal world, war is brimming between the Russians and the Tartars, and in the realm of magic, the fight between the Winter King and the Bear only grows more desperate as the chyerti fight for their existence.
The Winter of the Witch is far more than I had expected from Katherine Arden. Imagine a Joan of Arc slash The Hunchback of Notre Dame type of scenario. The Winter of the Witch reads like three different storylines – beginning with Vasya’s search for Morozko, the battle between Morozko and Medved, and finally, the Battle of Kulikovo.
AN AMBITIOUS & MERCILESS HEROINE
When we first meet Vasilisa Petrovna in The Bear and The Nightingale she is only a girl darting between trees, abused by her step-mother, and unsure of herself. In a time when Catholicism is invading Rus’ and the old traditions are being condemned as demonic, Vasya finds herself ensnared in the fight between the Winter King and the Bear.
The Winter of the Witch brings back the whimsical and dark atmosphere I had loved about book one. But unlike The Bear and The Nightingale, Vasya has grown into a harder, almost unrecognizable character.
Related post: Book Review of The Girl in the Tower
Vasya is more proactive with the magic she wields; back when she could only see and talk to the chyerti, Vasya has now found a way to wield her magic into something more powerful. While remaining respectful to the powers of old, Vasya asserts her rights over the chyerti. She commands them with a confidence we had not seen in book one. No longer does Vasya hide beneath boys’ clothing or skirt away from being called a witch, instead she says,
“You shouldn’t have told them I was a girl. Then they might have believed that I was dangerous.”
Through Vasya we come to understand that women are allowed to be both selfish and selfless. Just as Vasya fought for her family, she also fought for her own glory. In a time when women are expected to be one or the other, reading The Winter of the Witch seemed to cement the idea that being fearsome doesn’t necessarily mean we are void of tenderness.
ON THE CUSP OF A RELIGIOUS INVASION
Set in a time when Catholicism is invading Rus’, the chyerti find themselves beginning to disappear. The Winter of the Witch highlights how religion becomes a means to dismantle a cultural system.
Father Konstantin is, by far, one of the most interesting villains I have read. He is so painfully human; his warring desires between lust and divinity, between repentance and power. One of the saddest things I read about Father Konstantin is how he felt neglected by his God so much that he turned his face to the devil. And then we have Brother Aleksander who does not shy away from expressing his disgust about what he considers paganism. Yet, in spite of this, he walked a separate path from Konstantin. Both he and Konstantin may not have understood or agreed, but where Konstantin failed, Aleksander prevailed simply by accepting. He accepted Vasya as a witch. He accepted that there is a different power from the one he believes.
“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.”
I really loved the portrayal of Father Konstantin who, in spite of his wickedness, is filled with fear and self-hate. He looks at Vasya as the enemy solely because he cannot have her.
THE SPIRIT OF CHAOS AND A WITCH
Doesn’t that just sound like a dangerous road to travel?
During the previous two books, I was all but ready for the Vasya and Morozko storyline. So when it did happen, I was ecstatic! It was such a slow burn romance that gave me goosebumps…but you know what, I was surprised to find that Vasya and Medved’s relationship – and that is putting it mildly – interested me far more.
Medved is every bit the wild spirit Vasya wants to be. I imagined him as the anger of every woman who has been silenced. The need for violence and chaos is strong in the displaced minority and yet like Vasya we have to tame this madness. We learn to be merciless without being cruel, we learn to protect the vulnerable with a vicious streak, we learn that a little cunning and compassion can go hand in hand.
“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, Morozko.”
The Winter of the Witch is less a story of imagination but more of a social commentary on a world that demonizes women and non-Western cultures. We move from fear stricken Moscow to a hypnotizing place called Midnight, we meet fearful creatures and mushroom grandfathers, we experience love and forgiveness, and devastation but also peace. The Winter of the Witch brings the trilogy to a bittersweet ending with characters who continue to burn bright.
The Winter of the Witch is breathtakingly beautiful to read – its description of Rus’ and the fairytales woven together on the fingertips of a green eyed girl.
“I am a witch. I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.”
Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.
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.