The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

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The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Wilson
Reviewed by Ruth Wilson
Summary: The Winter of the Witch is a magnificent novel, in this final part of the trilogy Vasya must navigate through the world of men and the Orthodox Church to try to fulfil her destiny and be true to herself. It is a stunning novel, beautifully written with characters that are both flawed and corrupt, generous and loving. The Winter of the Witch is a beautiful blend of legend, folk lore and history woven into a convincing and magical story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2019
Publisher: Del Rey
External links: [ Author's website]
ISBN: 978-1785039713

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The Winter of the Witch is the conclusion of the story following Vasya, Vasilisa Petronova, as she negotiates her way towards her destiny through the world of medieval males and the Catholic Church's perception of witchcraft. The story picks up directly from the action in the second novel, The Girl in the Tower, and as a reader too much is lost if you haven't read this at the very least. My advice would be to read all three. The first two novels are beautiful and lyrical with extraordinary characters and a wonderful balance of magic and action. This final novel, however, is an absolute triumph.

The story is set out in five parts, each dealing with a different challenge for Vasya before she can finally fulfil her destiny. In the first part we are thrown straight back into the city of Moscow in the aftermath of Vasya's destruction of the city, Vasya has been revealed to be both a woman and a powerful witch and the city is out for revenge. Into the fray steps Konstantin Nikonovich, who both adores and abhors Vasya and needs to remove her as the only one who knows his secrets. I hoped and expected Konstantin to reappear and was keen to find out how Vasya would deal with him, would he finally get his comeuppance? I have thoroughly enjoyed the character of Konstantin throughout the series; he is a wonderfully flawed and desperate character, with all the depth of feeling one would expect from great Russian literature.

Vasya moves through this novel, trying to navigate through magic and reality, through pain and injury, dealing with deception and half-truths desperately hoping her instincts will steer her towards her true self and each part of the novel teaches her something new about herself, her powers and her destiny. Her path eventually leads her to the Battle of Kulikovo. It is this ending that pulls together the whole trilogy, this is where Vasya can finally fulfill her destiny and all is made clear. For those who do not know much about Medieval Russian history, as I did not, then this battle is full of twists and surprises. In Russian history the battle took place in Kulikovo in 1380 with Grand Price Dmitrii Ivanovich defending against the Tartars, the characters of the Tartar Chelubey and Rus Aleksandr Peresvet, Vasya's brother in the novel, were famously in the battle and the conclusion of the battle is historically accurate. Arden weaves her characters into the action. Very little historical record survives and as Arden herself notes, who is to say that her version didn't happen? If other novels dealing with history are historical fiction then this book would be better classified as historical fantasy. Arden masterfully weaves characters of flesh and blood with those of magic and legend, and the Orthodox Church with paganism.

The Winter of the Witch is both a beautiful story in its own right but also the perfect conclusion to the trilogy. Questions are answered, and we get to see Vasya grow in strength and certainty, as she finally understands who she is meant to be and what she must do. Vasya is an unashamedly powerful pagan woman in a world of dominating Orthodox men, and, as a character, Vasya is magnificent. This is a beautiful conclusion to what has a been a beautiful trilogy and it stands proud amongst great Russian literature. It is, quite simply, an utter joy.

To get the most enjoyment out of this trilogy, start with The Bear and the Nightingale.

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