The Winter of the Witch
Magic is forgetting the world was ever other than as you willed it.
I fell in love with Vasilisa Petrovna two years ago when I discovered her in the first book of Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy, The Bear in the Nightingale. Vasya, as her friends and family call her, is everything I love in a fairy-tale heroine: clever, plucky, stubborn, and unwilling to conform to either her society or her station in life.
In other words, a girl after my own heart.
In Nightingale, Vasya was a young girl learning to navigate in a magical world, curious and brave but unsure as to her place. In book two, The Girl in the Tower, she stepped out of the confines of the small Russian village where she was born, but still struggled to find her purpose in the wider world. In the trilogy's recently published conclusion, The Winter of the Witch, however, we finally see Vasya come into her own. In this final chapter, she evolves from a young girl who can merely see magic into a strong, assertive woman who can also wield it. Through tragedy and heartache, she learns to impose her will upon the world, and it's a beautiful thing to behold. I loved watching her fear fall away as she rose from near death to navigate the unknown and set the world to rights. Childish things have definitely been left behind. And the best part? She knows it.
I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.
Another interesting aspect for me was Arden's decision to set her trilogy during a critical time of transition for medieval Rus, when Christianity was supplanting traditional pagan worship and customs. Vasya, as a mortal woman who is also magical, stands at the crossroads of that conflict, and works throughout the novel to strike a balance between the two.
"Chyerti are, just as men are, just as the earth herself is. Chyerti are sometimes wise and sometimes foolish, sometimes good and sometimes cruel. God rules the next world, but what of this one?"
By novel's end, Vasya has walked this knife-edge skillfully, and brokered something of a peace between her two worlds.
Of course, as readers of the first two novels know, it's Vasya's relationship with Morozko, the frost demon, which is at the center of her connection with the Chyerti. In Winter, we finally see the culmination of that relationship, and suffice it to say that things are still...complicated, especially once his twin brother, the chaos demon Medved, becomes involved.
I have a hard time coming up with something to critique in this novel, because for me, it hit all the notes I love to see in fantasy fiction. A compelling and interesting story, a heroine I love and admire, and a larger commentary on the intersection between belief systems make it one of the best series I've read in recent years. If you're a fan of fairy tales told with a fresh new voice, The Winternight Trilogy is a must read. My highest rating.