Friday, March 13, 2020

Weekend Reads: The Winternight Trilogy Audiobooks (Heather)

What will you be listening to this weekend?

Oh, wait.

READING. Yeah, that.

These days my book consumption is a steady diet of audiobooks, though there's usually one actual book I'm slowly reading with my eyeballs. As a writer, I try to actually write whenever I have time to sit still. Thanks to audiobook apps like Libby, I can read several books a week as I multitask with chores or driving.

But, when someone asks if I've read a certain book, and I have actually listened to it, I'm not sure what to say. Is "yes" a truthful answer? I'd love your input on this moral dilemma!

So! Back to the question at hand...what will you be reading OR listening to this weekend? If you're turning to this post to help answer that question, I have a suggestion that may keep you busy for the next several weekends.

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden is a magical, intimate, beautifully written retelling of Russian Folklore set in medieval Russia. Though I'm not familiar with Russian folklore myself, listening to these books has piqued my interest to learn more. Interestingly, Ms. Arden has a degree in Russian from Middlebury College and also lived there twice. These experiences have masterfully imbued her books with everything from the harshness of the Russian winters to the heavy-handed presence of the Catholic church.

I would rate these stories as PG/PG-13. There is some violence described (there are brutal wars and skirmishes) and sexuality implied, (though nothing is gratuitous or explicit). Arden's prose are rich and evoke a sense of the mysterious time in history when superstitions, folklore, and the powerful Catholic church are mingling, clashing, and shifting around to find their place. Is there room for both?

The clash between these beliefs begins in the first book The Bear and the Nightingale, as we are introduced to the teenage Vasilisa who's grandmother has taught her to honor and fear the spirits in the forest, and yet is forbidden to do so by her staunchly religious stepmother. To make things more complicated, Vasilisa has become aware of her own magical DNA.

In the second book, The Girl in the Tower, Vasilisa (now called Vasya) is being forced to either marry or join a convent. Instead, she runs away, only to find her new home--Moscow--is under siege, and she is called upon to defend the city with her newly discovered abilities.

The dramatic, exhausting conclusion comes in The Winter of the Witch. Blamed for Moscow's disasters, Vasya must run for her life while also battling enemies, both mortal and magical, to save the land that she loves.

For me, the audiobooks provided an immersion experience into the Russian culture, thanks to the incredibly talented narrator Kathleen Gati. Her accents, pronunciations, voices, and inflections brought the book to life so vividly. Where I may have stumbled over many of the words and names if I were to read the book on my own, Gati handled them with ease. I may be as impressed with her narration skills as I am with Arden's writing abilities!

Though there are elements of magic and reference to witches and demons, this is not a book about witchcraft or the occult. Folklore, at its core, is the way past generations tried to understand and explain the world around them. The mysterious and the tangible. This book simply peels back the veil to peek into how the unseen and the seen might work together, might disdain, mistrust, or deny the existence of the other. In Vasya, we find the existence of both and her struggle to fit into either dimension.

This trilogy is truly an epic retelling that is a worthwhile investment of your time! Are you familiar with Russian folklore? Have you read any of Arden's books?

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