Following directly on from her previous novel The Girl in the Tower, The Winter of the Witch is a magnificent conclusion to Katherine Arden’s enthralling Winternight Trilogy.
Arden’s young heroine Vasya Petrovna faces her greatest challenges yet as the people of Moscow turn against her, believing her magic is responsible for the tragedy that almost destroyed their city. And, in a way, they’re not wrong. After all, if Vasya hadn’t released the firebird at the end of ...Tower (or, more importantly, if she had been able to control it), Moscow wouldn’t have been reduced to flaming ruins. But how else could she save the life of the Grand Prince, who is now more determined to wage war on his enemies than ever before, even if it is a war he cannot hope to win?
Unsurprisingly, the demon Medved - AKA the Bear - is ready to capitalise on the death and disaster, just as the insane priest Konstantin Nikovovich finally sees his opportunity to seize Vasya and burn her as a witch. And then there is Medved’s brother, the Winter King Morozko, who - despite everything - still has a cold unnerving hold on Vasya’s heart. In her bid to prevent the absolute destruction of Russia and the people she loves, Vasya will have to journey into the Midnight country and encounter new friends and foes - both human and fantastical - that her previous adventures have not remotely prepared her for, including a run-in with a very unexpected mushroom. She will also finally have to make a decision about which world she really belongs in - the human or the supernatural - and find a way to harness her now fully-grown powers. With the historic Battle of Kulikovo looming on the horizon - a conflict which will ultimately shape the geography and future of modern Russia - Vasya doesn’t have long to make her choices.
Just like The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, The Winter of the Witch is a terrific blend of medieval Russian history, folklore and mythology, political intrigue and feminist magical-realism. Also just like those books, The Winter... is beautifully and compellingly written and somehow manages to walk a fine tightrope between epic scale and focused, finely detailed character study. Maybe it starts off a little more slowly than the earlier entries, but that’s not a criticism because the pay-off is worth the wait.
What’s most impressive is how all the characters have realistically evolved across all three novels. That’s probably the reason why, when we reached the final page, we felt a little sad that the trilogy has come to end. One word of warning though - if you’re one of those readers who thinks they can jump to the last book in a series and still keep up with what’s happening, you’ll be very confused. In fact, even hardcore fans of Vasya’s adventures might want to reacquaint themselves with the previous books before they start on this one. But, for a trilogy as wonderful and as rewarding as Winternight, that’s a joy rather than a hardship.
THE WINTER OF THE WITCH / AUTHOR: KATHERINE ARDEN / PUBLISHER: DEL REY BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT OCTOBER 3RD ON PAPERBACK