This novel has an extremely interesting structure, perhaps because it is the third novel in a trilogy. Unlike most novels which begin at a low energy point and gradually build to a climax. this novel starts with a a deluge of overwhelming disasters that leave you reeling, only to cool down to a lyrical piece about horses, hunger and sorcery before blazing back to life, just before its end, with an account of the Battle of Kulikovo, which occurred on 8 September 1380 between the Golden Horde (descendants of Genghis Khan) and various Russian principalities under the united command of Prince Dmitry of Moscow.
This novel is a blend of fiction and fact, of fantasy and historical fiction. Thus Dmitry is a major character in THE WINTER OF THE WITCH, alongside his best friend Alexander Peresvyet, who really was a Russian Orthodox monk who fought as the Russian Champion before battle began. But did Alexander have a sister called Vasya, who had The Gift of Sight? Did her Magical Powers increase as she grew older so that she could control fire, golden bridles and glowing mares? Was she responsible for the Russian victory? And lastly, is she the basis of the Russian legend about Snegurochka, the Ice Maiden who was the consort of the Winter Demon?
It is a testament to Ms. Arden’s talents as an author that she kept me riveted to this book through the long back and forths through starry skies, the deep forests, and across the empty Russian countryside that made up most of this volume. One would expect to be bored after all the drama of the beginning. Yet, I somehow found myself caught in Vasya’s world, where her friends consisted of a terrifying bear, a frosty consort and a charming mushroom. (And that list doesn’t even include all the horses that she befriended.)
Fortunately, we didn’t have a Happy Ending, as that would not have been right for a novel set in the gory Middle Ages. But the ending we did get was ultimately satisfying.