Winter of the Witch was *CAPTIVATING*

winter of the witchMany of you will know of my love affair with the Winternight Trilogy. A Russian fairy tale retelling, full of wonder and magic, it was only natural I fell head over heels for it. My admiration reached fever pitch with the second instalment, as it went to deliciously dark places and blew my mind with its intensity. Needless to say, I was eager for the finale. And *WOW*, it did not disappoint.

Thrown straight back into Arden’s wintery world, the story promised action and beauty from start. With writing as gorgeous as the last two books, this picked up immediately from where Girl in the Tower left off and felt literally darker from the outset. I was utterly absorbed every time I picked it up. Indeed, it was a most welcome return to the story.

Unlike the first two books, which almost felt like self-contained stories, this leaned heavily on the earlier narratives. Plotwise it was a completely wild ride. The story bolts forward from the first page, bearing enchanting little gifts…

…Only to throw you from the horse and break your heart a little. Because this gives us some seriously moving moments. From the romance to the family connections, this story didn’t let up for a second. Again and again, the narrative took risks and delivered on an emotional level that somehow surpassed the previous books. I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I’ll say is that it brought tears to my eyes more than once.

Beyond that, the story travelled into far deeper territory than I could have expected. Building on the previous world building, Winter of the Witch takes the reader into the realm of storytelling and dreams. Entering into the land of midnight, it feels like the heroine is moving around the globe like the second hand on a clock. In this patchwork country, the very notion of reality is questioned.

This intriguing idea was further developed in the characterisation. What I especially liked about this aspect was how it presented the idea that magic can drive you to distraction- if you change too much reality, you might forget what is real. Not only did this present a brilliant consequence for magic, it also allowed for so much of the main character’s growth and forced her to push herself to the limit.

And Vasya isn’t the only one who’s stretched here. Every character is challenged- including some of the more demonic beings. Which allows for another interesting development: this story creates confusion over what is and isn’t monstrous. This presents such a nuanced, clever take on monsters in fairy tales. It’s a point of eye-widening genius; it’s a powerful take on the complexity of good vs evil.

Above all, the story presents a notion of unity. Not only does this tie together the strands of the first and second books, but it also draws this in line with historical events. Incredibly, Arden answers some of the questions I’ve seen about the first book, especially pertaining to the representation of Christianity as opposed to Paganism. This is particularly subverted by Sasha’s role as priest- which I was kind of remiss not to mention in my last review – especially as he plays an even greater part here (also I can’t be the only one to have been remind of Alyosha Karamazov- which made him an instant favourite 😉 ). In the end, the concepts were married together superbly and, at least for me, everything clicked into place.

Ultimately it was a sensational end to a sensational series. I believe I had a fair amount of faith in this finale- but even so, it was better than I ever could have imagined. All the wishing wells, genies and shooting stars in the world couldn’t have conceived something so magical. If you’re looking for a fairy tale retelling, this is quite simply something you need to check out. It’s very rare for me to give a whole series all the bananas- and yet here we are:

Rating: 5/5 bananas                               

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

Also look how pretty all my books look together:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So is anyone surprised that I loved this? 😉 And have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of the Winternight series? Let me know in the comments!

Girl in the Tower was *ENCHANTING*

*Received this book off Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the  gushing you’re about to see is all me*

girl in the towerAnd dark, and scary and made me feel all tingly. For anyone that doesn’t remember all the way back to December, I fell absolutely head over heels for Bear and the Nightingale, the first in the Winternight Trilogy. So when I received a last minute ARC for the second one, there was actual screaming, guys. And when I got to the end of this, well, let’s just say this raised my love to practically fever pitch.

happy2.gif

Straightaway I was plunged into Arden’s atmospheric world. With stunning visuals, chuckle-worthy dialogue and mysteries building, I found myself sucked straight back in. Most of my notes devolved to just “WOW” and “AMAZING” pretty quickly. Cos let me tell you, everything about Arden’s writing is wonderful. The haunting style made me shivery and weak at the knees.

From the outset, I felt a creeping sense of dread and that didn’t let up until the crazy-dramatic end. You know that cliché “I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath”- well I exhaled (loudly) when I got to the end and I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath- so there you go, proof it actually happens. I was so absorbed in the good old fashioned storytelling that I didn’t notice. Nor I did I notice the night ticking away until it was Crazy O Clock in the morning and the story was done (whoops).

Timeless and magical, the plot loops round, playing with strands of the story and then joining the threads. When I could finally see the full tapestry, my face cracked into a smile of pure joy– it’s been a while since I’ve seen chronology twisted so successfully. This seemingly slight touch allowed minor characters to step more into the spotlight, which was excellently done. Carefully, characterisation through the eyes of others and through the smallest of gestures, brought the world more vividly to life. Little things, like the humorous horse character, made my toes curl in pleasure.

And speaking of pleasure, the romance in this book melted my heart. There were only hints of romance in the previous book and, even though I discussed it offline, I’d been scared of scaring it away- but man I wanted this. I don’t know where it’s going, since there’s a terrifying combination of miscommunication and magic involved, but I’m loving the slow build so far. Arden sure knows how to take her time.

I also loved the direction Vasya took in this book. She’s certainly grown into an increasingly wonderful heroine. As with the last book, I loved her unconventionality, her cleverness and how unusual she was (including her looks). She’s such a great role model for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. And what made her even more powerful was the presence of a truly killer villain. He both mirrored her and reflected back her goodness with darkness… and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. But he’s a good un (well, technically bad 😉 )

What was incredible was how much more complexity and scope there was to Girl in the Tower. There were multiple layers to the story and I felt like there was so much more under the surface, waiting to be discovered. I honestly don’t feel like one review could do it justice (I can already see that I would benefit from rereading this story). One thing I will say that I enjoyed the most about this book was the elements of appearance vs reality. The hidden world of folklore, tucked out of sight for most people, gave the impression that there was more to this reality than meets the eye. I really appreciated how that theme bled into the narrative, the character’s gestures even and the portrayal of different beliefs. I marvelled how the unseen and the seen blurred together at moments, in a way that screamed UNCANNY and UNSETTLING. I revelled in what could be regarded as a clash of civilisations.

Ultimately, this book took everything about the first book and made it better. No middle book syndrome here- only pure, unadulterated bliss. I’d read a few reviews and thought “pff could it be better?”- the answer is yes, yes it could and it was. And I must say it was perfect with hot chocolate and Bailey’s after an exhausting day 😉

Rating: 5/5 bananas

small bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall banana

Have you read this or the first one? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Bear and the Nightingale was *MAGICAL*

bear and the nightingale

I am in love. Head over heels, butterflies in the stomach kind of love. Once in a blue moon I come across a book where everything just clicks for me- and that’s it, I’m a goner. Honestly, I read this last month and tried to compose myself before writing the review- yet I’m clearly still not composed.

I don’t think I’ve read a book like this in years. To say it captured the essence of fairy tales would be an understatement. By the miraculous stroke of her pen, Arden not only transported me back in time to the historical landscape of Russia, but also to a child-like state of wonder. Reading this was more than a window into another world- while I was reading I knew what it is to hold magic in my hands.

Some books feel like they take on a life of their own. They’re so atmospheric and absorbing that it reminds you why you love reading in the first place. This was one such book. The style was both rare and a rediscovery of that charming, youthful feel I used to get when I read books by the like of Ibbotson, Funke and Zafon. It was both utterly unique and reminiscent of childhood favourites for me.

And yet this was so clearly a fairy tale for adults. Nothing is sickly sweet or over the top- in the words of Goldilocks, it was “just right”. From beginning to end, I was more than a little wrapped up in the snowy-blanket warmth of Arden’s exquisite storytelling. I was transfixed as, layer upon layer, the storm brewed on the pages, enchantment unfolding behind a glassy veneer of reality, until finally it broke in an epic conclusion. An ending which, thankfully, was both satisfying and opened the door for potential sequels (the second book is coming out this winter!)

This is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. So if this sounds good to you, then go away, read it, and thank me later 😉

Rating: 5/5 bananas

small bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall banana

I don’t know where I first came across this book, but I do want to thank Danielle for her spectacular review which prompted me to finally pick get a copy! And if you’re like me and already obsessed with this, I also recommend the great interview/review over on Mischenko’s site and Liis’ view on it as an Estonian.

And that’s all for now. Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!