The Winternight Trilogy
If you’ve followed my posts for the last few months, you’ll know I’m doing a countdown of some books I particularly enjoyed last year. This month I’m going to talk about a trilogy that I absolutely adored and that, bar an absolutely exceptional late entry, would have emerged as my books of the year.
I’ve long been fascinated by Russia and its rich cultural history. Katherine Arden, the author of these three books, has lived in Russia and clearly used her time to great effect, soaking up the exotic folklore. One of the joys of this series is how vividly imagined they are and how small details build up to create a world of astonishing richness and variety.
The first book in the series is The Bear and the Nightingale (great title!). It introduces us to the dangerous, magical world of Vasya Petronova, a girl born with magic powers and the ability to speak to the vast array of spirits, both hostile and benevolent, who surround her father’s isolated estate in the snowy Russian woods. She will need every ounce of her power to save herself and her family when her world changes with the arrival of a new stepmother and a self-important priest.
Vasya is an exceptional woman in an era when women were treated as broodmares and chattels, and her strength is as likely to destroy her as save her. The climax of this one is just breathtaking and I was desperate to read the next one.
The Girl in the Tower, book 2, continues Vasya’s adventures and deepens the theme of how a woman with power survives in a world that refuses to recognize that power as anything other than satanic. Book 1 is set on the Petronov estate. Book 2 spreads its wings wider and takes Vasya to Moscow and the company of an unpredictable and dangerous ruler.
In Moscow, the friendly spirits who have always helped Vasya are distant and weak as Orthodox Christianity does its best to destroy the old wisdom. Even Morozko, the winter king who has been an unreliable ally and a possible lover, is unable to come to her aid when an ancient evil threatens to take over Russia. Threatened with either marriage or the convent, the fate of all women in this period, Vasya takes the risk of dressing as a boy to avoid captivity. But what happens when the forces ranged against her discover her secret and expose it to the world?
The Girl in the Tower is packed full of action and adventure, with some breathtaking scenes, including a winter hunt and a fire that threatens to devastate the wooden metropolis of Moscow. There’s also a wonderful talking horse who I swear stole my heart and I’m sure will steal yours. And the end is nail-bitingly suspenseful. Katherine Arden writes a marvelous climax, and this one is as good as the first one.
The last book in the trilogy, The Winter of the Witch, is I’m delighted to report the best of the lot! I spent a lovely day last weekend finishing it in a wild reading frenzy. I was a little worried – a couple of trilogies lately have let me down at the end. This one just keeps building until a magnificent climax that you won’t forget in a hurry.
I won’t tell you too much about it – if you’ve read the first two books, you’ll be champing at the bit to get hold of this one. Needless to say, Vasya faces what seem to be insurmountable odds and has to use every ounce of her courage and cleverness to succeed. There’s also a bit more romance in this one which I loved.
There’s so much to praise in these three books – the heroine’s emotional journey, the unforgettable characters she meets along the way, the magical transformations, the beautifully realized descriptions of Russia half-lost in a fairytale, the breathtaking action scenes, and even more, the deeply felt scenes of intimacy with the beings, animal, human and spirit, Vasya loves.
Rush to pick these books up. You won’t be sorry! Now I’m intrigued where Katherine Arden goes next. There’s scope for more books in this world, certainly!