Slowing Down But Never Stopping
In August, I popped in here to talk about “good writing.” By that, I meant the three books I had read that year that made me say “I want to write like that one day.” (That’s the author’s version of “I want to be like them when I grow up.”) Since then, I have read eight books. Is that a lot? Eight books in two months? I guess that’s a lot for some people, and not a lot for some, but it’s a lot more than I expected from myself this year. In January alone, I read eight books, so by that count, I’d have to say I’ve slowed down.
Regardless, there’s a series that I want to highlight as the seasons turn from summer to fall. (And as I say that, I am begging the 49th parallel to please cool down to fall-like temperatures. I write this in 27 degree weather — Celsius, silly — and I’m tired of sweating through my tank tops and shorts. I want to slowly freeze like a salamander in winter, curled up in sweaters and blankets, clutching copious mugs of steaming-hot tea. Illustrators, illustrate that.)
Speaking of winter, this brings me to the series that I want to talk about, a trilogy by Katherine Arden. I read the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale sometime last year, and in the last two months I have listened to the second and third books as audiobooks — The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch. Join me, for a journey through Russian history and folklore, blended into the story of a young girl and her coming of age.
The Winternight Trilogy
“I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.” —Vasilisa Petrovna
❄️ 🌲 🐎
Vasilisa Petrovna, or Vasya, is — at her core — a wild spirit. Over the course of the trilogy, travelling the cold, snowy landscapes surrounding Moscow, she grows from girlhood to womanhood and experiences all the confusions, injustices, and complications of that transition. As a girl who has never fit the box her culture puts her in, the further she entrenches herself in the magical world that only she seems able to see, the more isolated and alienated she becomes.
Exiled, hunted, and condemned as a witch by her own family, Vasya turns to the old, nearly forgotten magic of the chyerti — creatures that protect homes and rivers, horses that speak if you learn how to listen and turn into birds that can fly to freedom, and the winter king and his piercing blue eyes.
I have spent a great number of hours listening to these audiobooks and I don’t think I will ever be the same. There is darkness and death in these pages, but the expert blending of Russian history and folklore births wonder and magic to the world as well. The complex dynamics between pagan and Christian, Vasya and her family, and the chyerti and the world that seems to want to forget them, will stick with me for a long, long time.