Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

Back in January, I was browsing my favorite bookstore and came across The Sisters of the Winter Wood. I’d heard about and seen this book on Twitter and couldn’t resist buying it even though I had gone in to pick up a different book that I had special ordered. I never leave a book store with just the one book I went in for.

This one was definitely a good impulse buy.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is about two sisters, Liba and Laya, discovering who and what  they truly and how their identities affect their relationship as sisters. Liba’s chapters are told in prose, while Laya’s are in verse. Not only did this keep me alert as a reader, but it also ensured I never got confused about who the narrator was.

Considering how in the author’s note, Rena Rossner, says this was in-part a retelling of Goblin Market, that format was a great choice for this book. Like Laya, the verse chapters were airy and musical. Like Libba, the the prose chapters were more grounded and earthy.

This book’s greatest flaw was it’s beginning. The first page or two were fascinating. The next 50 or 60 pages were stuffed with telling and exposition. Very little happened.  I am the type of person who likes to read books almost straight through. On Tuesday night, I put this book down around 10 p.m. and went to sleep. I didn’t pick it up again until Friday because at that point, not enough had happened for me to get truly invested in the characters.

The beginning also fell into a trap that a lot of historical fantasy does. It goes a little overboard with the world building, especially when it comes to the gender within the period and place. It was great that eventually, a lot of the men turned out to be decent people, but there was so much emphasis on gender roles and relations in the beginning that I thought all the men were going to be a lot worse, and honestly, a lot of build up t really didn’t seem relevant by the end.

It was 100% worth slogging through the begining to get to the rest of the book. The tension and growth between Liba and Laya was fantastic. They each had their own delicious romantic subplot with someone they didn’t think their parents would approve of, and I wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to work out.

The dark, cold, forest setting was as enchanting as the goblins and shifters haunting it. And once we were past that initial info dump, there was a perfect blend of history and magic.

I learned a lot about Jewish culture of the time and place the book was set it, which according to the author’s note, was on the border of Ukraine and Moldova around 1904. The building antisemitism in the town, and the way it hurt the characters, was a tangible thing. It made me uncomfortable times, but in a necessary way. Scenes where characters are being harassed or slurred at are supposed to make a reader uncomfortable. If they don’t, something is wrong.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a beautiful novel filled with magic, tension, darkness, and plenty of opportunities to learn. I highly recommend it.

 

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