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Early Review: THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by Katherine Arden

Early Review:  THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by Katherine ArdenThe Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Also by this author: The Bear and the Nightingale
five-stars
Series: Winternight Trilogy #3
Published by Del Rey Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

MY REVIEW:

 

The Winter of the Witch is the final book in Katherine Arden’s captivating Winternight Trilogy. I always find it difficult to review books that come late in a series because it’s so hard to talk about them without giving away spoilers, but I’m going to give it my best shot here and hope that my words do it justice because  filled with unforgettable characters, intricate worldbuilding, and creatures from Russian folklore, the Winternight Trilogy truly is one of the most beautifully crafted series I’ve ever read.

To give a bit of general context for those who have begun the series, The Winter of the Witch picks up right where the second book left off.  Moscow is in ruins and its terrified citizens are looking for answers, and more specifically, for someone to blame.  That someone, unfortunately, becomes our heroine Vasya, and the final book begins with her fleeing for her life from an angry mob who accuse her of being a witch and want to see her dead.

War is also brewing as the Grand Prince of Moscow looks to go after those who threaten his kingdom.  While the Grand Prince prepares for war, the priest Konstantin has troubles of his own.  Although he may be a powerful religious figure, Konstantin is a weak man, easily manipulated by those stronger than he is.  In Konstantin’s case, he finds himself the puppet of a vengeful demon named the Bear.  The Bear feeds off of chaos, fear, and war so he uses Konstantin to fan the flames of hatred and distrust to create chaos everywhere.

This chaos and turmoil affects not just the humans, but also the magical creatures.  Vasya finds herself with the weight of both worlds on her shoulders as she desperately tries to save both her Russian homeland and her beloved magical realm.

Can Vasya stop the Bear and Konstantin?  Can she stop a war?  And most importantly, is there any way that her magical pagan world can peacefully coexist with the human world?  It’s a tall order, and Vasya isn’t sure she’s up to the task.

Vasya.  As with the two prior books, Vasya is my favorite part about this story.  We’ve watched her grow from a young girl to a young woman and there has just been such tremendous character growth throughout each book. That growth continues well into this final book and I can honestly say that Vasya is one of my all-time favorite book heroines.  I love her big heart, her refusal to conform to what is expected of her, and most especially, I love her resilience.  The final book presents Vasya with several heartbreaking, gut-wrenching moments – moments that probably would have crushed a lesser person – but no matter how low she is pushed down, she always picks herself back up and refuses to give up.

Worldbuilding.  I honestly didn’t think Arden could improve upon the worldbuilding from the first two books, but she proved me wrong with the Winter of the Witch.  Again, I don’t want to say much because of spoilers, but into her world of Russian inspired folklore, she introduces what she calls the Road to Midnight and for me, it’s one of the most memorable and unique parts of the story.  Vasya finds herself journeying on this road as she desperately seeks help from the Frost Demon and the journey she takes is truly magical, so much so that it almost defies explanation.  It’s kind of like time traveling but so much more.  You really have to experience it for yourself to get a feel for how wild a ride it really is.

Wonderful Secondary Characters.  Some like Solovey, Vasya’s horse, and Morozko, the Frost Demon, I adored.  Others like the Bear and Konstantin, not so much. But whether I loved or hated them, this series has a fantastic and unforgettable cast of well-drawn characters.  We also meet several more mythological creatures in this final book and their bond of mutual respect with Vasya adds so much richness to the story and really emphasizes how she is a bridge between the two worlds.

Creative Use of History.  I didn’t realize this until I read the author’s note, but some of the characters and events in the series are based on real historical events, including a war.  Arden has, of course, put her own personal and creative twist on them, but the historical fiction fan in me thought it was very cool to learn the story was based on not just Russian folklore but on actual Russian history as well.

It made me cry.  This does not happen to me often when I read fantasy series, but The Winter of the Witch made me cry. Not just once or twice, but three times!  I won’t say specifically why I cried, but I will say that two times, my tears were tears of sadness and one time, they were tears of joy.  That’s how attached to these characters I got!

I dislike that the series is over because I’m going to miss these characters and this gorgeous world so much, but that’s really all I’ve got.  For me, this series is about as close to perfection as it gets.

The Winternight Trilogy is, by far, one of the most unforgettable series I’ve ever read.  I love that while it’s a wholly unique story inspired by Russian history and folklore, it’s also reminiscent of some of my favorite childhood fantasies like The Chronicles of Narnia because the strong element of whimsical magic and wonder that permeates it.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

 

five-stars

About Katherine Arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVEL

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVELThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
four-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on February 12, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Crooked Lane Books blog tour for The Psychology of Time Travel.  Thanks so much to Crooked Lane Books and author Kate Mascarenhas for allowing me to read an advanced copy and share my thoughts on this exciting debut novel.

 

MY REVIEW:

The idea of being able to time travel is something that has captured my imagination since I was a child so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Kate Mascarenhas’ debut The Psychology of Time Travel.  I was eager to see what kind of spin she put on the concept and let me just say right now that I was not at all disappointed.  Mascarenhas brings a fresh new perspective to time travel by focusing on not so much on the idea of traveling itself, but more so on how moving back and forth through time can affect the mental health of those who regularly engage in the process.

When the novel opens, it’s 1967 and we are presented with four female scientists who are working together to build the world’s first time machine.  These pioneers decide to test the machine themselves while everyone else is off for the Christmas holidays and when they determine the machine works, they immediately contact the media to present their discovery.  To their dismay, however, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a live on-air mental breakdown, which threatens not only their project but also the entire future of time travel.  At the urging of Margaret, who has proclaimed herself the leader of their little group, the other three scientists decide that kicking Barbara out of the project and shunning her completely is the best way to save their discovery and keep it moving forward.

We then jump forward in time 50 years to see that time travel now occurs on a regular basis and that Margaret and the other two pioneering scientists now head up The Conclave, an elaborate complex that basically has a monopoly on time travel all over the world.  They run psychological screens and recruit candidates to become time travelers, they have their own currency system in place so that time travelers will always be able to have access to money no matter where they are in time, and they also have their own laws and courts so that they can police themselves through time.

When a dead body riddled with bullet holes turns up in the basement of a museum in 2018, however, it adds an extra twist to this time travel story by turning it into a murder mystery as well and lends itself to some very thought provoking questions.  How is this murder connected to the rest of the story?  Is the deceased from the timeline he or she was found in?  How do you catch a killer that could have come from and/or disappeared to any other point in time?

There’s a lot to love about this story but here are a few of my favorites:

Nearly all female cast of characters. If you enjoy a book with a full cast of strong female characters, then this is the book for you.  There is a minor male character or two in the book, but by and large, the story is led by women.  They have the brains, the power, the influence, and so on.  I won’t go so far as to say that all of the women in the story are likeable because Margaret really is the worst, but I will say that it is a diverse and very interesting group.

Psychological effects.  To play off the book’s title, the psychological effects on those who time travel were quite fascinating to read about.  The author clearly put a lot of thought into all of the possible reactions to having the ability to move back and forth through time.  For most who do it, it doesn’t really affect them much.  They jump forward and backwards in time, even encountering past and future versions of themselves and they don’t even bat an eye at it.  It doesn’t faze them a bit.

But then there are others who become obsessed with it.  Barbara, for example.  Once Margaret and the gang kick her out of their project, she spends most of the rest of her life obsessing about how to figure out a way back into their good graces and into the program because she’s desperate to time travel again.

Worldbuilding.  The worldbuilding in this story, especially with respect to the time traveling is just so intricate.   I thought it was brilliant that a time traveler could encounter older and younger versions of themselves. I also loved all the lingo the author came up with to describe time traveling itself and as well as the social structure within the Conclave.  I especially liked the idea that younger versions of yourself that you encountered were considered ‘Green’ while older versions of yourself that you encountered while time traveling were called ‘Silver.’

And yes, this is one seriously mind-bending book. The synopsis does not lie about that. LOL!  There were times when I expected to completely lose the plot because of all the intricate crisscrossing back and forth through time, but I’ll give the author major props in that she held on to all of the seemingly divergent threads of the story and managed to bring them all together to a cohesive and satisfying conclusion.

Ethical Questions.  I love a book that gives me food for thought and The Psychology of Time Travel definitely succeeded on that level.  In some ways the story can be quite disturbing, especially when it comes to the almost total disregard for danger and death that the time travelers have.  It’s like they’ve seen themselves and their loved ones at so many different points in the past and future that they’ve become immune to the idea of dying. It has no meaning for them.

The Conclave also seems to be ripe for corruption as they have such a monopoly on time travel and have their own rules and currency and court system.  The way they manipulate the system and move their money around to pay taxes whenever it’s most beneficial to them especially caught my attention.  I could see this book being a big hit with book clubs because there’s just so much to think about and discuss.  Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?

 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Psychology of Time Travel.  The only real issue I ran into was that partway through the book, the author added some extra POVs to the storytelling.  What the new perspectives added to the overall plot was vital so I understood why the author added them, but it was a little confusing since I had gotten so used to the original voices who were presenting the story.  The later additions also didn’t feel as developed as the earlier characters, which added to the challenge of keeping the characters and their places on the timeline straight in my mind.

Kate Mascarenhas’ The Psychology of Time Travel offers a fresh take on the concept of time traveling.  It’s equal parts science fiction and murder mystery, with a case study of the psychological effects of time travel thrown in for good measure. There’s really a little something for everyone.  I definitely look forward to reading more from Kate Mascarenhas.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures comes The Psychology of Time Travel, a mind-bending, time-travel debut.

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Traversing the decades and told from alternating perspectives, The Psychology of Time Travel introduces a fabulous new voice in fiction and a new must-read for fans of speculative fiction and women’s fiction alike.

 

four-stars

About Kate Mascarenhas

Kate Mascarenhas is a writer.

Born in 1980, she is of mixed heritage (white Irish father, brown British mother) and has family in Ireland and the Republic of Seychelles.

She studied English at Oxford and Applied Psychology at Derby. Her PhD, in literary studies and psychology, was completed at Worcester.

Since 2017 Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, bookbinder, and doll’s house maker. She lives in the English midlands with her partner.

Her new novel, The Psychology of Time Travel, is published in the UK by Head of Zeus. It will be available in the US from Crooked Lane in February 2019.