Everyone on this site who recommended the Winternight Trilogy: thank youuuuuuu!
I devoured these books. Like, ignore dinner, stay up til 3 am, read all lunch break. Try to read slowly to savor, but can’t because it just is so good. Continue to recommend to everyone who would listen. I think it’s so rare to find a trilogy that reads so well, for so long. I can’t wait to read it again!
So, back up, these are the second and third book of Katherine Arden’s Winternight series. Book 2 picks up right where Book 1 ends: Vasya leaving her village of Lesnaya Zemlya, because her neighbors suspect, correctly, that she miiiiiight be a witch. With the wary help of the frost-demon Morozko, and her fantastical stallion Solovey (“Nightingale”), she heads to northern Rus’ to go to Moscow.
Does that sound intriguing? Because it ONLY GETS BETTER!
Vasya is brave but still young and naive, which is in my opinion a hard thing to write – you have to show the results of poor youthful decisions, but keep that internal spark alive. Vasya’s heart breaks but she’s willing to face the consequences of her actions–which can be terrible. It’s really hard to write coming-of-age, and girl-dressed-like-a-boy, without falling into well-worn, tired tropes. And it’s hard to give characters real flaws that have real consequences (and aren’t like, oh she’s clumsy.) Arden does so, and so successfully, with such a fresh voice, and such love for her characters.
In fact, she turns all the tropes over again and again in this series. Do you like stories about women eschewing their traditional roles? Done! Do you like slow burn romance? Done! Do you like fairy and folk tales? Hoo boy, done and done. Do you like Quests and Magical Journeys? Maybe some opaque and intriguing prophecies? You will be delighted! How about some classic animal-as-traveling-companion-and-best-friend? Yes, yes, yes. Arden does all of this in this series, but it feels so new and fresh and raw. Never once did I think, ugh, I totally know where this is going, yawn.
I think the thing I love the most about this book, besides the writing, and the setting, and the characters and, and, and… is the way Arden takes what could be a classic good vs evil story and turns it into something with so many beautiful shades of gray. The family bonds are there, but they are complicated. Yes, there are epic battles, and yes, there is an antagonist. But as the tale is woven, you see that what victory means for Vasya is very different than what we thought it might be as she set out on her journey. Even the “bad guys” are a little ambivalent. The church is plays a major role in the plot, but the priests themselves are complicated – Konstantin vs. Sasha, both priests, both interpreting their role very differently and using the church for different ends. Moreover, the love interest is also a frost demon, for Pete’s sake. (Related: I loved the deepening of Vasya’s relationship with Morozko–as she grows and matures, their relationship becomes more equal and intimate, but also more fraught–more shades of gray.) And that’s why the conclusion at the end of book 3 is so satisfying: all is revealed, but the story, you just know, has to continue.
Tl;dr: Go read these books.