At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
Picked this book up as it is adored by a lot of book reviewers.
Essentially, we follow the story of Vasilisa, the daughter of a Russian noble who lives in the forzen North of Russian. She is a wild child and loves to hang around the forest. She then discovered that she is able to communicate with spirits or creatures from fairy tales. With such a peculiar ability, she struggles to deal with her stepmother, the perception of the villagers and was forced to face the Bear (an evil entity) which is in the verge of being unleashed to harm her town.
The story is set in a Russian setting. I was introduced to a lot of Russian traditions and folklore which to me is something creative and special. There’s also something special in Katherine Arden’s writing and the way she describes the setting of the story. Arden is able to draw you into the world and embrace the beauty and coldness of winter. Issues such as Christianity, the social status of a women as well as the importance of tradition are highlighted throughout the story.
However, I had a few problems with the first part of the story. The character arcs of some characters left me quite puzzled. I was wondering why Vasillisa’s brother is suddenly so determined in becoming a monk without any indication of such interest. The progress and decision of Vasillisa’s father in marrying her stepmother is also very rushed. The political intention and plot behind marrying Vasillisa’s sister to the cousin of the Grand Prince also happened in a very sudden manner.
The second half of the book just changed my mind towards this book. It is so magical when creatures from the Russian folklore were summoned to join the battle against the Bear. That moment is so epic and I cant help but to give it a 4/5 star rating. Had Arden delved into an in-depth characterization and developments the characters, it would definitely be one of my best read for the year. Nevertheless, I am intrigued and can’t wait to pick up the second book of the series!