In a dark medieval Russian forest, the tomboy daughter of the local chief, Vasya, just wants to continue with her wild and pagan ways- running through the woods, riding horses, communing with the minor domestic and farmyard gods. These ways put Vasya at odds with her stepmother as well as the Church, personified by the local priest. The stepmother and the priest push Vasya’s father to marry her off, which bodes ill for the village as a whole- the bonds that keep evil forces at bay are weakening and need Vasya, brave and bold, to keep the balance. Will Vasya be sent away? Is the mysterious presence whispering directions in the priest’s ear a manifestation of God or something more sinister? Will the village survive?
I’ve been mulling over how to describe Arden’s style and the world she captures on the page- while it is a medieval fairytale, she also has a background in Russian history, which gives it more of a magical realism vibe crossed with historical fiction. All this description makes it sound more complicated and unwieldy than it is (maybe fairytales were the first kind of magic realism stories? I’m sure someone has done a thesis on this). Moreover, Arden writes well, so you’re not lost in or distracted by the details- they just fill in the background to her adventure like so many trees in the deep Russian forrest.
I can’t recommend this book enough- it felt like such an escape from the late winter confines of COVID life, and also reminded me of the romance of winter. Curl up and dive in!