When I first listened to the audiobook of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and The Nightingale two years ago, I knew this series was going to become a firm favourite. Her writing (and Kathleen Gati’s fabulous narration) transported me straight into the winter of darkest Rus and I could feel Morozko’s breath on my cheek. She wove a world of magic so vivid and entrancing that when I reached the end I wanted to start it all over again.
The Bear and The Nightingale is rooted in the folklore and fairytales of medieval Russia and this is evoked so deeply in every line. From the very beginning, you feel the conflict that runs through so many aspects of the story: the entrancing, earthly magic of the chyerti and the oncoming power of the heaven-gazing church; the societal expectations of a girl on the verge of womanhood and the wild spirit of an individual who does not wish to be bound by those laws; fire and ice, old and new, chaos and order – this is the story of age old battles. I fell in love with Vasya and her family, wanted to fall asleep to Dunya’s tales and earn the pride of Pyotr Vladimirovich. I was bewitched by the beauty and cold ferocity of Morozko, deathly afraid of Medved and regarded Konstantin Nikonovich with equal parts fascination and disgust. The setting of Lesnaya Zemlya and its surrounding forests is vividly painted and its wildness is utterly enchanting.
When I read The Girl in The Tower I was hungry for a continuation of that magic. At the time, I was a little disappointed because it did not capture me heart and soul as the first book had. I think the main reason for that was the change in setting. The move away from the wild, magical setting of Lesnaya Zemlya to the bustling, political metropolis of Moscow for the majority of the story left me longing for a return to the forest. However, whilst I didn’t fall as deeply in love with it as the I did Bear, there was no denying that the grip this story had on me was a sure as Morozko’s winter grip on the world. There was still drama and a deep intensity within the story, along with intrigue and magic – although I felt it more subtle in this second instalment.
I waited with baited breath for the final book of the trilogy and I was not disappointed. The Winter of The Witch may even be my favourite of the three. Seeing Vasya come into her power and her womanhood, despite all the odds, was thrilling and I just love the way her character grows, embracing both her dark and her light. This third book broke my heart again and again. There is so much loss and fear and pain in its pages but it is all so beautifully conveyed. The Winter of The Witch pulls no punches and there are many chapters that seem so bleak I felt as though nothing – not even magic – could make it right. And it doesn’t. The sorrow of it all round through to the very last page but there is still hope in it as well. In this way, I found it to be a very true story. True to the brokenness of humanity. True to the pain of grief and oppression. True to the struggle with our own nature. But also true to the magic and wonder of the world.
Everything about this series is wonderfully crafted: I was invested in the characters at every turn of the page; the settings are so exquisitely and clearly rendered that you forget you are reading at all; the story is compelling and grips you by the throat by turns alternately beautiful and devastating. Arden is undoubtedly a magician of words. This will be a series I return to again and again.
Have you read this series? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!