“A demon sat sewing in the corner, and she was the only who saw.”
This book is about a Russian girl named Vasya who lives in her village in the deep of the woods. However, when fear of the old pagan gods start taking hold of her people, Vasya begins noticing terrible things happening to her once-peaceful home. To save what she loves, she must muster her unique powers and do what is necessary for their sake.
Genres: Young adult, Fantasy, Mythology
Introducing…my new obsession.
Only a few chapters into this book and I knew without a doubt: I’d follow Katherine Arden into death itself, just to read her books. There is an intricacy to her prose that caresses a magic into her stories so that despite my reading slump and cynicism going in, I found myself head over heels within a matter of pages.
Now is this to say that this book is perfect? Nah, the plot could’ve been sharper. However, the intimacy of the author’s prose and lore-rich world-building is so incredibly charming that plot was almost secondary to them. The ambiance is a colorful yet mystical blend of Hayao Miyazaki, and I could practically smell and taste these Russian seasons right off the pages.
And gosh darn golly, the family dynamics made me melt. Screw romance, give me good old-fashioned family love any day, and I’m half sold. Not to mention, the villains were so incredibly compelling that I was both rooting for them to be redeemed or also perhaps to die a most painful death. (Either one would’ve been fine with me.)
In that, this book has probably got to be my absolute favorite read this year (2018 or 2019, you choose), and I cannot express to you just how enamored I was by it.
However, I did mention that I had a few issues, most notably towards the climax. For the majority of this book, the author had taken pauses at her liberty and allowed the story to breathe, yet when it came to the climax where things inevitably became less airy-fairy and more action-packed, events started to accelerate and were only briefly touched in passing, which made the conclusion feel relatively rushed and not as emotionally lush.
Furthermore, I was left feeling a tad ambivalent about the foreshadowed romance. This might a personal nitpick, but considering that I was waiting for a twist or deception to be revealed about the love interest and his intentions, I was not entirely satisfied how he only turned out to be a sugar daddy. Not to mention, the straightforwardness of the climax again threw this lack of complexity or “messiness” into sharper relief for me.
So yeah, my only complaints with this book is that the finale didn’t take as much time to breathe, and the foreshadowed love interest was not as complex as I wished him to be. Otherwise, the prose was glorious, the lore magical, and the characters charming. If you have any doubt about this book’s potential–quell it.
“She is ugly, thought Konstantin, and then wondered at himself. What was it to him if a girl was ugly?”
Recommended? Hell freaking yeah.
This trilogy gives me strong vibes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (my favorite Disney movie) as well as Hayao Miyazaki’s vivid world-building and vivacious heroines. So if you are a fan of either, go for it! The religious and feminist themes are a breath of fresh air to discover in YA, and I’d wholly recommend it to you as one of my new favorite reads.
Final thoughts: Rich, suspenseful, immersive
The highest praise I can give this book is that it is utterly immersive. Regardless of your preconceptions going in, the unique lore and culture will make you forget your biases and allow you to form your opinions organically, and that’s what this book did for me.
This book was so wild, so lush, yet it knew how to be quiet and intimate at the same time. Regardless of its shortcomings, I will now forevermore tout it as a favorite.
Rating: Strong 4.5 stars (5 stars for the first 75% of this book, 4 stars for the last 25%)
***Now if I didn’t make this clear already, this book made me forget I was reading a book, and all my insurmountable expectations were dispelled just like that. For the first time in ages, I was just sitting back and actually enjoying a YA book for what it offered, and the hype didn’t manage to influence my regards for it even in the slightest. Just, wow.
***Also, it might come across as a stretch to compare this to the worlds of Studio Ghibli, but that was literally all I could visualize while reading this book. Not to mention, Vasya sometimes reminds me of Ponyo or a water nymph of some kind, so there you go. 😛
***Lastly, if you’re wondering why I didn’t give this book 5 stars despite my gushing praise, it’s because of the finale. It’s perfectly serviceable, but an impactful finish is what’s required to make me go nuts for a book, so that’s why my rating teetered closer to 4 stars. (It really depends on the day though; Goodreads review here for my specific thoughts on this.)