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.
Rating: 4 Stars
This has become one of my favorite novels of the year. It’s not a fast paced action novel and, while normally during the winter I’d want to read something that takes place somewhere significantly warmer, this book takes place in Russia, a frozen place filled with stories of monsters, witches, and a host of other supernatural folk.
I found that the story was very easy to sink into. It doesn’t start out with the main character, Vasilisa, but rather her family and grows from there. We learn intricacies of her family, little facts that unfold as Vasilisa is born to a mother that wanted her more than anything and whose sacrifice has unforeseen consequences. From birth to adolescence to teenage youth there are not only the growing pains that Vasilisa faces, but the ripples in the pond that her family members make, such as her father’s second marriage and her brother Sasha’s aspirations to monk-hood.
In regards to the writing style, I found it reminiscent of classic Russian novels in the naming conventions, such as female and male differences, plus the slight changes made depending upon the familial relationship to the person in question. It was a bit of a challenge at first because I am not used to reading in that style, but after a couple of chapters I found that it wasn’t a bother at all and actually added to my experience in the Russian landscape. It might help if the reader’s read manga in the past, actually, because honorifics are used there as well, often with similar nuances depending upon the person you’re talking to.
A sweeping fantasy, I think the series has potential to be quite the epic one and I look forward to reading more from the author.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.