Ever read a book/s and just ache to be able to write like that particular author? Ever wish you could sit across the kitchen table and ask them questions about the world-building or the characters or moments in particular that shook you?
That’s how I feel about Katherine Arden and The Winternight Trilogy.
There was something immensely…powerful about this series and I know, for a fact, this trilogy will remain on my shelves for my foreseeable lifetime. All three books were brimming with: magic, history, folklore, wintertime, family, religion, and (ultimately) character growth.
The best part though?
Her writing was magic all in itself: prose so heavy it felt like a fur coat around my shoulders as I read. Glittering, edgy, and darkly-beautiful.
So, let’s get down to the books.
First off, I’m a little behind on finishing this trilogy out. The Winter of the Witch (the final installment) was published in 2019 – and I finally got to it in May of this year.
All three books received (5) star ratings from me, both on Goodreads and in my personal reading journal. — Y’all, when I say this is hands down one of my favorite series EVER, I’m not joking.
If you haven’t read (or heard of) The Winternight Trilogy, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads for The Bear and the Nightingale:
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
We’re introduced to Vasya and the Russian landscape in The Bear and the Nightingale. Here’s what I wrote down originally in May of 2018:
“What a breath of fresh air. Everything about TBatN was…seductive. I’m not sure how else to describe it. The darkness, the twisted character branches, and the backstory. All these fairytale vibes – and the real kind of fairytale, not the “prince-charming-on-a-white-horse” bullshit. I loved every second of it.”
Later that year, I threw myself into The Girl in the Tower and fell even more in love with Arden’s world + her characters. I wrote:
“I didn’t think Arden could top The Bear and the Nightingale but, by golly, she did. So lush. Atmospheric. Addictive. I CRIED like a baby, too, no shame here. I totally wasn’t prepared for this second installment.”
And, lastly, I finished The Winter of the Witch on May 29, 2020. I was hesitant, both sad to see the trilogy end and worried I would be disappointed with the wrap-up. Here were my thoughts:
“Hands down, one of my favorite series to date! Such an amazing conclusion, to a wonderful trilogy as a whole: the world building, the character arcs, the dialogue, and the beautiful prose that rooted it all. I am a HUGE Arden fan. What a ride.”
I HIGHLY recommend Arden’s work if you are drawn to lyrical writing. Yes, it’s pretty heavy, but there are moments of genuine humor (thanks to the Bear) and such spiritual lightness for Vasya that you can’t help but love her and her imperfect soul.
Also, the romance? So tastefully, wonderfully done. Bravo, Katherine.
P.S. – If you love horses (or just animals in general), this is also a series for you. My favorite character (the one I liked –> then loved –> then cried huge tears over) was Vasya’s equine counterpart.