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.
Wild birds die in cages.
If you follow me over on Instagram or Goodreads, you already know I could not get enough of this freaking book. It takes place in Russia when Christianity was pushing out the old ways. There is magic, monsters and an amazing tie into Russian folklore. The writing is whimsical and fantastic and the story spans over a huge chunk of time explaining important aspects of the main character’s life while giving you the point of view of all of those around her as well. I literally had the hardest time putting this book down you guys and I’ve been screaming from the mountaintops and shoving it at people to get more people to read it because it’s so underrated.
The theme of this story is a powerful one. The main character goes through the journey of fighting against the norm and what is expected of her. She struggles and goes through A LOT before she reaches the end. She is brave and strong and kind and openminded.
I know that a few people have said that the beginning is slow (I can’t for the life of me understand why) but please, please, please if you pick up this book keep on going until the end because there is a lot of things that go down. Two chapters into this book and I went on Amazon and ordered the second and third book because I knew it was going to be a story I wanted to complete right away!
This is probably one of my favorite reads for all of 2019!
And now I’m going to break down all of my thoughts, so if you don’t want spoilers – please turn back now!
I was captivated by the first sentence. Her style of writing is literally the most beautiful thing I have ever read, definitely a whimsical fairytale style. I really loved how she started off the story talking about her family before she was born so that we were able to get a better feel for the dynamics and how her relationship with her father ended up being the way that it was.
Her mother, Marina, was a character I really enjoyed even though we only got to hear from her for a short while. I loved how they tied into witches and royalty which plays a big part throughout the entire plot. And now I’ll fast forward to after Marina dies.
I love Vasilisa and her siblings so much and how different their relationships are with one another. I was hoping that Sasha would’ve played more of a role in the first book (but I’m hoping I’ll get to see more of him later on). I fell in love with him as a character from the moment he had the conversation with their father: It’s not Vasya’s fault Mother died. (pg. 28) And I love that he played a big role in turning around that father/daughter relationship.
The creatures (because I don’t know what to call them – I think maybe they’re like Gods?) that pop up throughout this entire book ARE SO FREAKING COOL. The Rasalka was my favorite but I really liked the house one that lived in the oven and minded his business by sewing (I also REALLY loved that this one terrified Anna because EW ANNA) and then the one with the horses and I loved that he was a rare one to actually see.
Now I’m going to talk about Claude Frollo, I mean Konstantin. No, but seriously. I got major Frollo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame vibes from him and I know I’m not alone because I talked to a few people that agreed. He’s gross. Like the grossest of gross. Just imagine the song Hellfire playing in the background every time you read his POV because it’s fitting.
Now onto the Dunya thing. I loved her character, loved how she wanted to protect Vasya from the Winter King and ultimately gave up her life so that she could hold off handing it over. I was sad to see that she was used against Vasya as an upyr.
Alyosha throughout the entire book is a freaking gem of a brother and I also really liked that they didn’t make her younger sister out to be hateful like her mother, Anna.
And then Vasya was such an amazing character from start to finish. She is brave and kind and is unapologetically herself. SO BASICALLY GO BUY THIS BOOK, BORROW THIS BOOK AND READ IT!
A few quotes I loved:
“There was something feral about her, for all her neat gown and properly braided hair. She looked like a wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission.” (pg. 102)
“I am only a country girl, I have never seen Tsargrad, or angels, or heard the voice of God. But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing. We have never needed saving before.” (pg. 108)
“You are right, I am foolish. I was born for a cage, after all: convent or house, what else is there?” (pg. 156)
“I believe the evidence of my eyes.” (pg. 166)
“Wild birds die in cages.” (pg. 190)
“Why did you save my life?” “It amused me.” (pg. 273)
“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.” (pg. 276)
“All my life, 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.” (pg. 279)