Book Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Series: Book 3 of The Winternight Trilogy

Publisher: Del Rey (January 9, 2019)

Length: 384 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Reaching the end of a beloved series is always bittersweet, and sometimes you even put off reading the last book because you don’t want to say goodbye. But in the case of the Winternight trilogy, I was actually really looking forward to The Winter of the Witch because as we all know, endings can be hopeful too—a promise to the reader that the journey was worth it all.

The story finds Vasya in the aftermath of the great fire in Moscow—a fire she accidentally started when she unleashed a firebird to save the life of the Grand Prince. Now an angry mob has descended upon the home of her sister, led by the zealot Konstantin Nikonvich, a priest who has been obsessed with bringing down Vasya since the very beginning. Grieving for a lost friend and distraught over what she has done, our protagonist ends up being captured and is headed for the pyre to be burned as a witch when suddenly, fate intervenes in the form of the Bear demon Medved, who makes Vasya a tempting offer.

However, Vasya is her own woman and refuses to owe the demon any favors. Escaping on her own, she finds herself in the dreamlike realm known as Midnight, where she encounters all kinds of mystical creatures and figures, including her own great-grandmother Baba Yaga. After learning about herfamily history and magical bloodline, Vasya realizes just how much responsibility rests upon her shoulders, especially once she discovers what has become of Morozko, the Winter King, following his sacrifice on her behalf. The Bear has also found a way to create chaos, manipulating Konstantin to do his bidding. To save Moscow, as well as those she loves, Vasya must come to terms with who she is, and embrace her power in all its glory and dangers.

In this satisfying conclusion, we get to meet some familiar faces like Vasya’s sister Olga, who is dealing with her own grief, as well as her brother Sasha, who has come a long way since leaving home for the monastery—though he is still my favorite character. Vasya’s cousin Dmitrii, the Grand Prince, also has a part to play, as he begins to gather allies and prepare for the oncoming threat of invasion. In essence, we are pulling all the threads together in the lead-up to the Battle of Kulikovo, which marked a victory for Rus forces over the Tatars and is considered one of the major steps in formation of what is modern Russia. Katherine Arden blends history with fantasy, entwining medieval Russian politics with fairy tale and folklore to create something amazing here. For while the tensions simmer in the real world, an invisible war also rages among the supernatural beings of the enchanted lands, as Morozko and his brother Medved are locked in their own fierce battle.

This novel sees Vasya caught in the middle, in more ways than one. For one thing, she spends a good part of the story in the realm of Midnight, which should delight fans of the more fantastical elements of this series. This, however, was probably why I liked this volume a little less than the two previous ones; as much as I enjoy the magical aspects of Vasya’s journey, I always preferred it better when she was dealing with mortal conflicts. The one exception to this is her complex romance with Morozko. As Vasya struggles with her place between two worlds, she is also trying to work out her complicated feelings for the Winter King, whose purposes are often hidden but quite vast. As always, I love how the author treated their relationship with a subtle touch, so that it becomes neatly integrated into the novel’s larger themes of choices, sacrifice, and unity.

Like the two books that came before, this one had some slow-moving sections. However, Arden keeps things interesting with all the new things Vasya encounters in the spirit world. I confess some of these parts felt like filler, but there were also revelations that paved the way for bigger developments later on. The prose, too, is beautiful—Arden has clearly been honing her skills over the years, and her writing is now better than ever. Midnight would not have come to life the way it did had she not described the world and its denizens in such luscious detail.

All told, The Winter of the Witch is a worthy conclusion to a beautiful trilogy about changing times and growing up. It is not my favorite of the books, considering how strong the first two volumes were, but it did end with an epic climax and an emotional denouement which is sure to resonate with readers who have been with Vasya since the beginning. Katherine Arden has created something genuinely incredible here: an atmospheric and memorable saga full of imagination and heart.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Bear and the Nightingale (Book 1)
Review of The Girl in the Tower (Book 2)

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34 Comments on “Book Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

  1. It’s great to see that it was a great conclusion there! I was curious about this series, I heard so many great things about it!

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  2. So glad the series ended on a high note. I’m trying to go back and pick a few series that I’ve missed to start this year, and this is a contender!

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  3. I was so hyped when this series was first announced! Due to certain circumstances, I obviously wasn’t able to read it – but I just sent a request in the the publisher yesterday to see if I could get her in for a final interview about this series! And this is a series, that I will mark down that I would like to come back to read one day.

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  4. Here is another series that’s quite high in my “must read” mental list – at least now I know I can look forward to the complete trilogy with no waiting time between book, which is definitely a plus 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Really nice review, Mogsy. I’ve been looking forward to this finale, too (and then not, since it’s the final book, so *sniffle*), so I’m glad to hear it has your stamp of approval! I also thought it was interesting that this book was originally supposed to come out last summer, then it was delayed until next week. Not sure why, but I’m not going to complain. Wintertime reading fits this series better than any other time of the year, IMO.

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    • I’m with you there. There’s just something about reading this series inside where it’s warm and toasty, while the weather is frigid outside. Reading it in dead heat of summer just isn’t going to have the same magic. I hope you will enjoy this conclusion as much as I did 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve not fully read this as I want to go into the book blissfully aware but your closing paragraph and 4 stars are encouraging. Maybe not as good as the first two but still good regardless.
    Lynn 😀

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    • I look forward to your thoughts! And yeah, I didn’t like this one as much as the previous two, but it’s mostly due to personal tastes and the fact I don’t like it when my fantasy gets a little too “dreamlike”…I guess you’ll see what I mean when you finish 🙂

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  7. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  8. I really need to go back and reread the first one in the series. I barely remember what happened, just didn’t connect to the characters very well. But I want to finish the series because everyone else seems to love it so much. Great review!

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    • If you didn’t connect to the first one, I don’t know that it would get any better with the rest of the series because the style and the tone of the books remain somewhat the same. But best of luck if you do decide to give the series another try! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it was because the audiobook for that one was particularly tough for me. Something about the narration kept making me zone out. I think if I try a print copy then I might have a little more luck so that’s why I want to retry it. 😀

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  9. And now that the trilogy is complete I shall hunt it down and devour it!
    OK, I’m just making excuses, all three books sound amazing and I just haven’t gotten around to picking the first one up yet. But at least now I know it’ll be worth reading through to the end. 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Wrap Up: January 2019 or – I have thoughts on books

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