Here we are and it’s Friday once again. Welcome to the eve of the weekend, a time for rest, a time for relaxation, a time to hunker down and read a book. “Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.” (Mark Haddon)
Be prepared to step into a world of the Russian winter, of tales of old, of the clash between religion and old world magic. Be ready for a strong female protagonist, Vasalisa, who will take on the fears, the anger of a religious fanatically driven step mother, Anna, and the denizens of Russian folklore to win the safety of her family and in doing so ensures the well being of her village. “You left me this mad girl, and I love her well. She is braver and wilder than any of my sons.”
To be a lover of folktales, of stories passed down through time and generations is what makes us all family. It binds us to a past, ties us to the present, and makes us look forward in time to the future.
Vasalisa is gifted with visions. She sees the protectors the spirits of old, the ones who live in your home, that live in your animals, that live in the woods. Some are there to protect while some are there to spread evil and fear, to devour the dead, and to take over the world as they spread their tentacles into the world unprotected. Vasalisa, one of four children, lost her mother, Marisa, in giving birth to her. Her care giver, Dunya is the teller of tales, the bearer of stories, the giver of the old visions, and it is she who tries to prepare Vasilisa for her destiny. Vasalisa’s grandmother also had the vision of the Russian spirits, and Marisa so wanted a girl child to inherit that innate ability. And so Vasalisa does.. “..I want a daughter like my mother was, Marina had said. Well, there she was, a falcon among cows.”
The father, Pytor, remarries after a number of years, and at this point we see a clash of the old world meets religion. A priest, Konstontin, comes to town bearing his religion as a cloak, determined the the old ways are the work of Satan. Vasalisa is feared by her new step mother who also can see the spirits, “But do not take Anna Ivanovna to heart; she does not want you to be beautiful.” but is ultimately driven insane by her visions However, Konstontin is drawn to Vasalisa. “She is not afraid, Konstontin thought dourly. She does not fear God; she fears nothing. He saw it in her silences, her fey glance, the long hours she spent in the forest. In any case, no good Christian maid ever had eyes like that, or walked with such grace in the dark.” Religion though is his impetus and allies with Anna to rid the village of Vasalisa, not realizing it is she who is keeping the village alive and safe.
There is a war to be waged and it is the the well feared Frost, the blue one eyed devil who she must go to. How will he receive her and will he be able to stop his brother who is becoming powerful as the ways of the old are discarded? “It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name. I leave it to you.”
Told with beautiful Russian terms and names, this stories evoked tales of winter, of desolation, of the things that we often think dwell in the night. I am not a very huge fan of fantasy novels, however, this one was so well written, so evocative of the ways of the old world, that I truly embraced its beautiful stoy and its strong heroine.
and here’s the author:
Katherine Arden (born 1987) is an American novelist, best known for her Winternight trilogy. Arden was born in Austin and currently resides in Vermont. She spent a year in Moscow after high school before returning to Vermont. She attended Middlebury College, graduating with a degree in Russian and French in 2011. Her first novel The Bear and the Nightingale was published in 2017, followed by The Girl in the Tower in 2018 and The Winter of the Witch in 2019. She has also written a novel for children, Small Spaces. (Wikipedia)