Winternight Trilogy consists of The Bear and the Nightingale, its sequel The Girl in the Tower, and the conclusion The Winter of the Witch. This is the first series I read in 2023. If I was still living in Michigan, I would probably completely feel the wintery mood. Luckily for me, I now live in the tropics and all is warm and well!
The Bear and the Nightingale
It is quite clear to me that this first book is mainly to set up the most climactic battle of the Winternight trilogy. That battle happens in the third book, near the very end. Here we see our main character Vasya born, her childhood life, and all the way until she becomes a maiden. We also get to meet key people in her family, those that will eventually shape history.
Despite being mainly setups, I feel Katherine Arden did it very well with a lyrical poetic writing style. Even from this first book, we know this trilogy will be full of mystical magic, painful sacrifices, the caged role of being a woman in those times in Russia, and the ever-present issue of state religion versus indigenous beliefs.
The Girl in the Tower
One great thing about this middle book is it has no middle book syndrome. The plot thickens and the stakes are higher as Vasya gets involved (as a boy) in the Grand Prince of Moscow’s court. It complicates things that her brother Sasha is now an iconic monk and trusted advisor to the Grand Prince, and her sister Olya is now (by marriage) the Princess of Serphukov, a high-ranking noblewoman in court. In Moscow, people who still honor chyerti (the spirits of the land) are shamed and outcasted. So much so that the chyerti are now fading away, pushed out by church bells and priests.
To be honest, I actually liked this second book best because of all the crazy things that happened here plotwise. There were also some shocking reveals about the past of Vasya’s family that made everything fall into place. However, even after finishing the trilogy, I am still unsure who exactly the girl in the tower was. There were several prominent girls in the tower, and they all had their shining moments. Or perhaps, the author intended it this way!
The Winter of the Witch
It was climactic alright, but I was so angry at myself at the end! I am usually pretty good at spying out which beloved characters will end up dead, so I am able to not get too attached. BUT I DID NOT SEE THIS COMING! My heart is utterly shredded. But yes, it was an exciting and dangerous conclusion, and at some moments I genuinely feared for these characters, something which I rarely see in fantasy books.
A great rustic fairy tale, one that I will not mind rereading sometime in the future.