To give your winter a perfect magical vibe, we got your back with a new book rec. The Winternight Trilogy is an adult fantasy series written by American author Katherine Arden.
What To Expect In the Winternight Trilogy?
- A Strong Heroine
- Russian Mythology, wars and politics
- Frosty magic
Spoiler-free Plot of The Winternight Trilogy
1. The Bear and The Nightingale
During the freezing winters in the small village of Rus’, children huddle in blankets while their elders tell them the stories of demons and magical beings. They are told to be wary of them, since one of the demons, the frost demon named Morozko, takes away any of the children or maidens prudent enough to step into the woods.
But Vasilisa Petrovna, young, wild, and the only one with magical powers among them listens to nobody’s advice. Until one day, she wanders deep into the woods, where the frost demon comes to meet her. Morozko knows about her special powers and wants to give her a necklace, making her bound to him forever.
Knowing the gruesome intent of Morozko, Vasya’s father and grandmother want to marry Vasya away or send her to a covenant. None of these appeal to Vasilisa, who wants nothing more than to live her life the way she wants, freely and unbound.
However all magic comes at a price, and Vasilisa’s power to see demons labels her as a witch in the village. Moreover, Morozko’s brother, Medved the Bear, is waking up. A dangerous creature bound by Morozko many years ago, he will destroy the whole village and burn it to the ground unless Vasilisa calls upon her special abilities to stop him
2. The Girl in The Tower
The second book of the series starts with Vasilisa, now 17 years old. Her father is still intent on marrying her or sending her to a covenant. Instead, Vasya (nickname of Vasilisa) wants to travel the world. She leaves the safety of the forest grove that is Morozko’s home and goes out for an adventure. She dresses up as a boy and travels to the great city of Moscow, where no one knows her as a witch.
Along the way, she finds several burnt houses. What’s more, their girls have gone missing. Vasya is determined to bring them back and save the day.
However, fate has other plans. A dangerous turn of events brings Vasya, dressed as a boy within the very Court of the Prince of Moscow. Entangled within the politics of the court, she must stay true to her cause and protect the people she loves, all while hiding her true identity and working in league with the demons.
3. The Winter of The Witch
The Prince of Moscow has taken bad political decisions, and so a war is fast approaching. But this will not be the biggest problem for Rus’, because an unseen threat is also lurking in the corner. The Bear, enemy of Morozko and a deathly demon, wants to spread chaos in Rus’.
Caught amid two battles, Vasilisa must lead the demons into helping Rus’. Nevertheless, people hate demons and so they may not be willing so easily to be allies.
In this fascinating conclusion of the Winternight trilogy, Vasilisa discovers secrets about Morozko, her past, and her special powers- which she will use to win the battle of Moscow.
My Take on The Winternight Trilogy
The Winternight trilogy is exactly the kind of fantasy you read curled up in bed with a cup of coffee in your hand. Katherine Arden’s writing is honestly so lyrical, I was immediately transported inside the book. The entire series has a fairy-tale feel and combined with glimmers of the rich Russian culture, I could not help but breathe in the words.
Talking of romance in the Winternight trilogy, it was slow-burn but very light; both Morozko and Vasya seemed to respect each other. Yet there were only hints of it in the first book which focuses more on the childhood of Vasya. However, The Bear and the Nightingale is beautiful in yet another way, imbued with fascinating magic and a girl who is hated for nothing but harnessing the abilities nature gave her.
Aside from the writing, I also doted on the elements of Russian history and culture. Before writing the Winternight trilogy, Arden spent an entire year in Russia, researching its rich heritage and infusing its spirit into the series. And her efforts are quite evident in this stunning masterpiece of fantasy.
The Winternight trilogy is marketed as an adult fantasy, but I think it is suitable for young adults too, say 14+. The text is slightly descriptive but not much of the elements of gore and violence, or explicit content is present (except in The Girl and The Tower). However, if you enjoy folklore with a cozy yet dark vibe, it would be suitable for you.
The enchanting atmosphere of the Winternight Trilogy was peppered with battles, bandits, and politics. Although the scenes were intricately descriptive and slow-paced, I didn’t feel bored at all. Quite the opposite, I was entirely bound by the story of Vasya and the little demons that inhabited her house.
Entwined with the frosty magic of the series is the Slavic mythology of Russia. Domovoi (of the household), dvorovoi (of the courtyard), rusalka (the water nymph), vazila (of the stables), Midnight and Midday, and yet so many more magical creatures were featured in the Winternight trilogy.
Whereas The Bear and The Nightingale focused more on setting the plot for further adventure, The Girl in The Tower is fast-paced with skirmishes, battles, and the grinds Vasya has to face being a girl. The last book, The Winter of The Witch has more of the magical elements, war, and heartache that you’ll want to return to each winter.
Now coming to the characters! None of the characters felt flat or two-dimensional. I felt bad for Vasya, the way she felt all alone when even her family chided her for her abilities. Vasya, ‘frog-faced and ugly’ was deeply imperfect yet she was heroic in the sense she didn’t need saving by a ‘knight’. Tagged as a ‘witch’, she single-handedly managed to get the loyalties of the demon spirits the believers or the ‘Christians’ hated. Vasya’s struggles in the male-dominant culture of archaic Rus’ felt realistic, and her sister Olga’s conservative royal family stood as a symbol of a life Vasya would have to live, should she get married.
Morozko, the Winter King, had an ambiguous moral character yet his love for Vasya made him human. Quiet and reserved, the frost demon had hostile relations with his brother, Medved. There were characters in the Winternight trilogy whom I desperately wished to have a redemption arc, but their villainous natures made me despise them to my core. There’s Konstantin, for example, who obviously admired Vasya but his deviated belief in religion made him make the wrong choices. Still, Arden did a marvelous job of giving each character their strong/weak points and I liked everybody, even the villains.
Other Books Like The Winternight Trilogy
If you loved reading the Winternight Trilogy and want to read more books like this one, worry not because we have you covered! The following books have the same magical fairy tale feel as The Winternight Trilogy:
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik
- Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
- Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
- Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
- Deathless by Catherynne Valente
- Heavy violence
- Explicit content in The Winter of The Witch
- Death of Family members
- No cursing/bad language
- Fires, burning, sexual assault