Author: Katherine Arden
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.
I loved this book, but I have been dragging my feet on this review. I am finding it so hard to process what I thought, and to articulate it correctly. So please bear with me.
This book is beautiful, and stark, and beguiling. It tells of a world that is caught in between the old ways and the new religion, a village that serves both, a girl that is able to touch and see the old guardians. It is a tale of warning, a fairy tale, a fantasy. One that you will read and never quite feel warm while doing so, even under blankets, even with a cup of hot tea. I loved the writing, the way we are drawn in, the description of Vasya as a wild thing, feral almost in her beauty and affinity with nature and with the things that lived in the woods, the old ways. She is a captivating character, special. All the characters were vivid, and all had their parts to play, especially that of Morozko, whose presence and explanation eluded us until almost the end. I didn't want this book to end, but I also wanted to know what was going to happen next. It made me remember my previous love and obsession with all things Russian, and now I want to dig out all of my old Russian books and read more on their folk lore. I love when books make me read more books.
I very much recommend this book, and if you can read it while it is cold and snowy out, even better. Have some tea and a blanket nearby, and if you are lucky, a fire in the fireplace.