[A quick note: I got these editions from Fairyloot because I knew I would love this trilogy. It took forever for them to come and then when they did, I didn’t get around to starting them for a couple of months. I knew I wanted to read them during winter, since I wanted the atmospheric vibes. The cute mug came from Illumicrate and features Morozko and Vasilisa on their trusty steeds.]
“𝐍𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬, 𝐕𝐚𝐬𝐲𝐚. 𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞, 𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐭. 𝐌𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐜 𝐢𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐬𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐚𝐬 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐝 𝐢𝐭.” —Katherine Arden
This whimsical, magical tale of an evil Bear, a courageous Nightingale, and one girl’s coming of age will grab you by the heart. Vasilisa is seen by her villagers as a strange thing. She’s not like other girls who dream of finding husbands and settling down to keep house. Instead, she sees monsters, ventures out into the forest alone, and rides horses better than most boys. She’s special, but no one sees it that way. They whisper behind her back, blame her for the failing crops, for the things that begin to go wrong, and talk about shipping her of to a convent.
There was something so real and raw about the storytelling. The hardships endured by Vasilisa’s family and her people in the dead of winter didn’t feel contrived. It felt almost bibliographic in nature. As if these events happened and Vasilisa was merely telling us her story. In short, this was just so special!
Set in the Russian wilderness, TBatN is filled with family, tradition, and tons of folklore. The main backbone of folklore follows Russia’s frost king, Morozko, demon of death. Morozko is known for sweeping in on the coldest nights of winter, the darkest nights, and taking the young children and the infirm. But it is Morozko’s battle with his evil brother, the Bear, that Vasilisa becomes involved with. The Bear wishes to bring famine and misfortune on everyone by nurturing fear and forcing the world to forsake the little fae folk. If he breaks free, the world will fall.
When a new priest comes to Vasilisa’s village, the villagers begin to turn from their traditions. They no longer leave small offerings for the tiny magical folk that keep them safe. No more offerings for the demon who lives in the stables tending the horses, or the demon who lives in the oven stoking the flames. And when these offerings stop, the chains holding the Bear in his prison break, allowing him to sweep in and set the dead walking. It’s in this coldest part of winter that Vasilisa finally discovers what’s happening. But she’s the only one holding on to the old ways, the only one fighting to keep these special creatures alive.
In their fear, it seems that everyone has…forgotten.
Vasilisa’s coming of age was a large portion of the story leading up to the main events. Vasilia’s family accepts her, when her village doesn’t. But even her family tries hard to convince her to want the things normal girls do. Vasilisa isn’t easily swayed. She knows what she wants and struggles to hold true to herself, even when it seems that marriage is her only option. Even when it seems there’s no other choice. There is a quote that sums her up so perfectly:
“𝐀𝐥𝐥 𝐦𝐲 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞,” 𝐬𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐢𝐝, “𝐈 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐨𝐥𝐝 ‘𝐠𝐨’ 𝐚𝐧𝐝 ‘𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞.’ 𝐈 𝐚𝐦 𝐭𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐈 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐈 𝐚𝐦 𝐭𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐈 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐝𝐢𝐞. 𝐈 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐛𝐞 𝐚 𝐦𝐚𝐧’𝐬 𝐬𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐚 𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐩𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐮𝐫𝐞, 𝐨𝐫 𝐈 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐡𝐢𝐝𝐞 𝐦𝐲𝐬𝐞𝐥𝐟 𝐛𝐞𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐝 𝐰𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐬𝐮𝐫𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐦𝐲 𝐟𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐡 𝐭𝐨 𝐚 𝐜𝐨𝐥𝐝, 𝐬𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐠𝐨𝐝. 𝐈 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐰𝐚𝐥𝐤 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐣𝐚𝐰𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐢𝐭𝐬𝐞𝐥𝐟, 𝐢𝐟 𝐢𝐭 𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐡 𝐨𝐟 𝐦𝐲 𝐨𝐰𝐧 𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠. 𝐈 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐝𝐢𝐞 𝐭𝐨𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐰 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐚 𝐡𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐦𝐞. 𝐏𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞. 𝐏𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞 𝐥𝐞𝐭 𝐦𝐞 𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐩 𝐲𝐨𝐮.” —Katherine Arden
What a charming story! I finally understand the hype. There’s so much to praise. The fairytale feel, Vasilisa being the perfect feminist MC, the magical forest vibes, morally gray characters, and all the folklore. It wasn’t what I expected by a long shot. But I loved it. Fair warning: there wasn’t any romance to speak of. It was entirely a coming of age story, but who doesn’t love one of those? I can’t wait to read the second one! 𝐌𝐘 𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆: 𝟒.𝟓/𝟓⭐️