Synopsis: 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.
My Review: This is not the genre I normally read, but after reading a review on a blog I follow I picked it up. It is a fantasy/fairytale/historical story all rolled together. Medieval Russia, Rus, in the fourteenth century is the setting. The people living in the villages are Christian with a healthy belief in protective spirits or demons. There is also a belief in some of the more powerful spirits like Morozko, the Russian Jack Frost, a winter demon who can be kind or cruel, and his brother, the Bear, who feeds on fear to become more powerful.
Vasilisa, (Vasya) is the fifth and last child of Pyotr Petrovich, a wealthy landowner, and his wife, Marina, She dies in childbirth, but not until she gets a promise from her husband to take care of her daughter who is her likeness and has her skills. From the beginning the girl is different, running wild and free, to the frustration of her nursemaid and surrogate mother, Dunya. Pyotr eventually remarries Anna, the daughter of a Rus prince. She sends a message to Moscow that they need a priest as the old one had died. When a priest Konstantine, comes unwillingly to the village, he decides the people and their old ways and beliefs are an affront to God. He makes them stop leaving food for the spirits and he stirs up things that should have been left alone. She is a young woman who can see what most cannot and who can speak to those most do not. When she begins to ride the wildest horses and seems to see demons and spirits, she is thought a witch by the villagers. Her father believes that she needs to marry or go to a convent to protect her. Vasya will eventually have to save her village and put her own life in danger.
This was a story that was so beautifully written. The imagery and descriptions of the characters allowed you to see the places and the creatures. The Russian folklore and mythology was easy to understand even if not exact. I loved watching the interactions of Vasya and her siblings as well as her father. The priest was easy to hate and it was hard to see why Vasya kept saving him. I could feel the cold, the misery and the confusion of the villagers and family as the story progressed. The description of the home where Vasya and her family lived with the stove they slept on and the chapel they could sneak in and out of made me feel like I was there. The author never loses sight of the main narrative despite all the strange happenings and I found that amazing. The creatures and characters just added to the story. I recommend this story to anyone as it was not something I would have picked up and as I said earlier, I really enjoyed it.