The Winter of the Witch
by Katherine Arden
Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.
Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.
With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…
I’ve had a peculiar relationship with The Winternight Trilogy. I’ve really enjoyed both previous books in the series, and there’s no denying that Arden’s writing is bloody brilliant, but it’s not a series I’d consider a favourite or a series I’ve felt the need to own. Now that I’ve read the finale, all I’d like to do is have the trilogy on my bookshelf one day so I can re-read it in its entirety, because this is one of the best series enders I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
While The Bear and the Nightingale‘s focus was more on the fantasy side of this tale and The Girl in the Tower focused more on grounding the story in medieval Russia, The Winter of the Witch combines these two sides of this story beautifully — which is basically the point. It’s masterfully done, and a satisfying conclusion to the story because it’s not without its sacrifices.
Following the events of The Girl in the Tower, Moscow is threatened by enemies both magical and mortal while the city’s citizens blame Vasya for their misfortunes. Forced to flee for her life, Vasya searches for Morozko and becomes a player in the game he and his brother have been playing for centuries; a game that will save all of Russia, the human and inhuman, if she wins.
Arden’s writing is stunning, and has been throughout this entire trilogy, but the way this story develops, the interweaving plot and the character arcs, is excellent. There are characters she’s made me despise only to make me pity them in their final moments, which is the sign of a wonderful storyteller. Nothing the characters did happened so Arden could get from A to B; it’s a finale that flows beautifully from scene to scene with such attention to detail that there were times I felt like I was reading a traditional Russian folk tale rather than a novel written in the 21st century.
This is ultimately a story about belief, whether it’s belief in gods, stories or ourselves, and if you haven’t picked this trilogy up yet, winter is the perfect time to rectify that!