For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…
It is going to end, Vasya thought. One day. This world of wonders, where steam in a bathhouse can be a creature that speaks prophecy. One day, there will be only bells and processions. The chyerti will be fog and memory and stirrings in the summer barley.
That’s exactly how I feel about this trilogy. I know it will end and I so very badly do not want it to. I can’t believe I’m so late coming to these books, they’re everything I could ever want in fantasy and folklore, with a strong female protagonist.
I was skeptical coming into this book because I didn’t think it could ever live up to the first one. With Vasya, Solovey, and Morozko – all of the characters I loved from the beginning, the return of Sasha, Dmitrii, and Olga who left too early in the first book and featuring a new cast of Slavic ghosts and spirits, I loved every minute. While it was sad to leave Lesnaya Zemlya, what it revealed to me was just how good The Bear and the Nightingale truly was. It showed that it had been just backstory and buildup for the things to come. It’s fairly common in a series to get bogged down in history and plot development in one of the instalments, but it’s usually worth it for the pay-off. In the Winternight Trilogy, though, it’s all pay-off.
Sasha looked at his sister. He had never thought of her as girlish, but the last trace of softness was gone. The quick brain, the strong limbs were there: fiercely, almost defiantly present, though concealed beneath her encumbering dress. She was more feminine than she had ever been, and less. Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name.
I love the running commentary throughout addressing the role of women in society.
All of Vasya’s actions were hailed and applauded when she was pretending to be Vasilii. These exact same actions are held against her character and her reputation when she is revealed to be a woman. Even her family members are against her, feeling they were forced to lie for her and blaming her for the danger and loss of status they experience.
Vasya is incredibly brave. She sees spirits no one else can, befriends the winter-king, runs away from home, saves children from bandits, and fights demons around every corner. To do all this, though, she has to overcome what she has been taught all her life is her place and her role in society. She has two choices; she can get married, or she can join a convent. When she decides that neither of these choices works for her, she has to reimagine and create a place in the world for herself. I’m so excited to get to the next book and see what she does next.
The themes throughout this trilogy are simple, but the characters, the plot, and the world-building are complex and sophisticated. I’m itching to get started on The Winter of the Witch, but so hesitant to finish and leave this world behind.