My Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
I went into this book knowing nothing other than that it was supposed to be a retelling of Russian fairytales and I’m kind of glad that was all I knew. I feel like it’s been too long since I started reading a book that I didn’t know the plot to. That is why I’m going to leave the description at the bottom of this review so that you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. Granted, I had also only heard good reviews on this which ended up giving me a lot of confidence going in.
I really liked how much I felt like I was in a fairytale as I read this. I was absorbed and at some parts (especially at the end) it got so mystical that it felt like a dream world. Personally, as I began reading this, I kept being reminded of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This was because the main character, Vasya, was looked upon by the villagers as a wild, demon child just like Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. Also, the priest, Konstantin, reminded me of Arthur Dimmesdale because of his overly pious nature and how he was haunted by his great sin. I doubt that Katherine Arden meant for these similarities to be made, but I couldn’t help thinking of them as I read the book (those were about the only comparisons you could make though).
I found these three quotes in the book (towards the end of the story) that I really liked…..
- “Blood is one thing. The sight is another. But courage– that is the rarest of all, Vasilisa Petrovana.”
- “Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”
- “Sleep is cousin to death, Vasya,” he murmured over her head. “And both are mine.”
One big thing in this story that I found really interesting and frustrating at the same time was the lack of choice that a lot of the characters had. The women basically had two choices in life- join a convent or marry a man that was picked for them. And sometimes they didn’t really have those choices either if their father decided to send them to one place over the other. This lack of choice over the characters’ own destinies was probably historically accurate and definitely carried the story along in an interesting way, but I couldn’t help feeling so bad for their sense of hopelessness no matter if they were a bad person or not. However, reading about Vasya’s defiance throughout the story against doing anything other than being independent and free was really refreshing against the restrictiveness of the time.
There are many Russian words and references to old Russian tales in this story, but I didn’t find that too confusing because there was a glossary in the back of the book if I got confused. The thing that was a little confusing at first was the fact that each character had a lot of different names because that is how they did things in Russia. What I picked up was that each name used for a person depended on the situation and the relationship between the two people conversing. Near the middle of the story, I actually found this to be quite enjoyable. I loved it when the characters would use “schka” at the end of someone else’s name because it seemed to me that they did this as a way to show caring, love, or concern. Some examples in the book were Vasochka, Alyoschka, Dunyaschka, Maruschka, etc. I thought it was really lovely and I kind of wish that was a thing in my life.
Please read this if you want to read a beautiful fairytale!
Here is a description of the story from Good Reads, but please don’t read it if you want to go in without any knowledge of the plot!
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.