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The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

Discussion in 'Books and Anime Discussion' started by KHAAAAAAAN!!, Mar 14, 2019.

  1. KHAAAAAAAN!!

    KHAAAAAAAN!! Troll in the Dungeon Prestige DLP Supporter

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    The Winternight Trilogy


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    I came across 'The Bear and the Nightingale' by chance after seeing it at the bottom of a suggested titles list stemming from my purchase of Skyward by Sanderson. I am a sucker for fairy tales and folk stories, so I gave it a whirl.

    Boy oh boy. These were great audiobooks. It's a slow build across all three novels, with very little 'action' and small climaxes, but the prose and world-crafting is well beyond excellent. I was hooked from start to finish by the deep mythology, Arden's skillful weaving of her tale into traditional Slavic folklore/historical events, and the magnificent narration by Kathleen Gati (she does all the voices emotively, and with a pretty decent Russian accent which really livens things up - I highly recommend the audiobook version over the book version).

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    Brief Summary Overview:

    Late 1300s. Fade in on Lesnaya Zemlya, a tiny snowy village in the northern principalities of medieval Rus' (essentially western Russia, right before the russian princes unified and started to fight back against the Golden Horde). Vasilisa (Vasya) Petrovna is born in an age where Christianity is overtaking the native pagan religion, and the spirits and gods of the old world are being forgotten. Unfortunately, Vasya is of a witch's blood, and she is one of the select few who can still see and hear these otherworldly beings. She puts offerings out for the domovoi. She swims with the vodyanoi. She plays in the woods with the russalka. As you would imagine, all the fearful Christians think she's fucking nuts (and to be fair to them, she kinda is).

    From the moment she's born, the old gods covet her power, for being able to see, interact with, and remember these beings makes them more powerful, and more tangible. Vasya gets caught up in an ageless conflict between Morozko (Father Frost / King of Winter / Creepy Russian Santa Claus / God of Death) and his brother, Medved (the great Russian Bear / God of Life / King of Fear and Chaos).

    I won't spoil much more than that. Incorporates dozens of different popular Russian fairy tales across the 3 books (Baba Yaga, The Firebird, and Koschei the Deathless just to name a few)
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    If you are like me and grew up with any of the traditional fairy tale compendiums (Anderson's, 1001 Nights, Grimm's, or more to the point Afanasyev), I think you'll really enjoy this story. Conflicts are resolved largely not by swinging swords, but with cleverness, deal-making, and a very light sort of willpower/imagination magic.

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    Two major triggers:

    1) Vasya is bit of a "Sue by any other name" in that she has numerous character and physical flaws, but people are still #drawn to her #special-ness. And she's got big beautiful entrancing 'witch eyes' whatever the fuck that means.

    2) The relationship between Vasya and Morozko gets a little romance novel-y, particularly in the third book. It's not blatant - about what you would expect from a very young, debuting female fantasy author - but if you hate reading about romance of any sort, it could be a turn off.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2019
  2. CareOtters

    CareOtters Supreme Mugwump DLP Supporter

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    I've not read the final book yet, but I'm enjoying the series so far. The magic is just as you say - cleverness and bargaining reminiscent more of folk tales than a Marvel movie, which is always a good thing. There's an innate substance to the supernatural in this which you rarely see.

    The MC is very Suey, to be sure, but in a deliberate sort of way which makes it work. She's raised by the nature of who and what she is to be on a different level to the sweaty masses around her, and this causes her no end of problems as a witch-child outcast. Although the setting is very different I'd liken it to the heroes in classical epics - they're larger than life characters who are ever so slightly more than human.

    It's not an example of snowflake syndrome so much as "here is a mortal the gods are watching". And speaking of gods, Morozko was eh in a blatant romantic hook way, but for once Christianity was treated with a sense of weight. I may hold that religion in great disdain but there was a genuine sense of faith and awe from the characters in places. The painter priest was an interesting thing I've not seen before.

    I was frequently reminded of the more serious moments in Pratchett's witches novels, which is always a good thing. It was a fascinating inside into a setting which our milquetoast euro-derived fantasies often lack.

    The series does shift towards female-written romance with some of the omnipresent tropes I find exasperating, so it's perhaps not an exact match with DLP's usual taste, but it's still very good for anyone with an interest in historical fantasy.
     
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