Fantasy, Historical fiction

Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

There is a story behind my finally getting my hands on the series and if you bear with me I will try to be as concise as possible (not too concise since that might be boring).

I first noticed the second book of the series when I started blogging, it was an advance copy I was not yet cut out for and therefore got rejected. Then I kept my hungry eyes on my library and they did an odd thing. They got the second book in stock first. For almost one year they had the second one but not the first! This I would say is one of the biggest possible ways to annoy a person like me. If you are a fan of reading series’ in order, you will understand where the anguish comes from. When I got a pre-approved widget for the third book, both of the first books were available and I read them (almost) back to back.

The has been recorded as fascinating on multiple blogs, has had praises sung by so many people, I have lost count. A friend who recently (after years of only academic reading) took the plunge into fiction with this series. It basically was everywhere and this adds a whole layer of expectations (however hard you try to school the mind into thinking otherwise) and very, very few books can live up to that kind of scrutiny. I will now end my own personal story with the (now obvious) fact that I loved the series and each book individually. Since I read them all one after another (oh the joy in doing something like that!), I ended up rating the first book four stars not because it was inferior in any way but the second is my favourite with the third being a close second (confused yet? I will try to clarify as I tackle them separately)

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This first installment is about a family living in the cold forests of Russia. Their town is steeped in old traditions and folklore as the new religion makes its way into their midst. The family is related to the Grand Prince of Russia but not in a way that is advertised because of the mystery behind the connection. The children in the family are all different, three boys and one girl and another is on her way. It is this girl who heralds the change in their lives and their country as a whole.

The first book sets the pace, the background and the family dynamics of the tale. It lets us get acquainted, bond with the people we are introduced to and plant the seeds of distrust for a chosen few people/demons. We watch the family from when Vasya is born till she is of an age to be married but things do not work the way everyone hopes. She is beyond the reach of those around her. Dynamics between all the main people and the blurring of the lines between  right and wrong is the highlight of this first book. I was more than ready to jump into the next stage of their lives once I turned the last page of the book. I am not talking about the individual characters or the storyline because the lesser you know when you get down to reading it, the more surprising the experience is bound to be.

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This book was my favourite. Vasya is grief-stricken at the end of the last set of events that befall her family and their village. She can no longer survive the usual lifestyle and makes a drastic choice. On her beloved nightingale she sets off to discover herself. In this process she learns a lot and rescues her family from the dangers she partly feels responsible for bringing to their midst. Olga features predominantly since this is based mostly in her domain and has a stronger effect on her than anyone else.

It is filled with family reunions and a lot of questions. Some information is revealed but for the most part it initiates a lot more questions. The story’s focus has now shifted to Moscow and the politics that are involved in keeping such an enormous country together. Vasya cannot deny who she is but it will take her family much longer than this one book to come to terms with her inherent qualities. There is intrigue, secrets and a lot of scrambling to get things right. It has all the qualities which make a good fairy tale, it is just more intense and more colourful than any that I have ever read before. Sometimes past weaknesses come back to bite the person who tried to do the right thing, once again I refrain from naming names because their appearance startled me when I was getting complacent. I would be more than welcome to discuss this with someone equally excited.

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I received an advance copy of this third book but was unable to read it before the publication date but I did read it immediately following the previous book which was something of an experience.

The last installment of the trilogy is everything a finale should be, it has battle , reconciliation between family and many other epic things. We left Vasya in dire straits in the last book as well as evil at large. This evil is dealt with twice in this book both times in a different fashion and for different reasons. The difference between the tones made it almost seem like two separate books but that’s about the only partially negative thing I can say about it.

We deal with three members of the original family. Our leading lady Vasya, Olga and Sasha. It is not difficult for any of these three to endear themselves to anyone, despite their hardness and occasional brutal decisions( more in Vasya’s case than anyone else’s ). It is the tenuous link between them that makes it an interesting read. The war itself and the machinations put into action for it are detailed and engrossing. Overall this series makes you feel welcome into a culture that is different and none of the ‘new’ topics introduced ever feel jarring or overwhelming. This finale rewards the investment of time and emotions into this series. I normally am a happily ever after person, but after finishing this, even I could not argue with the ending nor think of a more appropriate one.

Affiliate links to purchase the book if interested via Book Depository

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