SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA Historical Fantasy
REPRESENTATION: Jewish Protagonists
For fans of: Spinning Silver, Anna-Marie McLemore
Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.
But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.
Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…
The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
I’ve had a eARC of The Sisters of the Winter Wood sitting on my Kindle for an embarrassingly long time. I finally got my butt in gear and bought myself a copy of the audio-book. I can’t believe I put this book off for so long! I loved it and finished the book in a single day.
One of the things I lost in the audio (from what I’ve heard of the hard copy) is the fact that Laya’s chapters are in poetry and Liba’s are in prose. Listening, I didn’t really see the distinction that clearly, I just noticed that the two girls had two very individual ‘voices’. If the poetry puts you off, audiobook would be a great choice for you; if the poetry appeals, pick up a physical copy.
The different narration styles add to the character of the two protagonists. I loved how the sisters — Liba and Laya — were so different and how their personalities matched their animal forms. The writing in Laya’s chapters is lighter, she’s more flightly, prone to love-at-first-sight and never seems to sit still. Liba is more considered, her prose more grounded, she’s a girl that makes very careful choices and prefers to sit with her father and learn.
The whole plot is full of action and romance and mystery. I just couldn’t put it down. The world-building of the town life and the girls’ family history is perfectly deep and detailed, pulling in aspects of Russian and German folklore (swan-women and bearmen), Jewish history and Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. The story is magical and atmospheric. I think it will especially appeal to fans of magical realism or fabulism. It’s not quite that (which I struggle with) but there are elements and touches that I think you’ll enjoy.
One thing I noticed while posting my Goodreads update, was that a lot of the less positive reviews mentioned the amount of Jewish culture, religion and Yiddish being confusing or overwhelming. If this is making you wary of picking up The Sisters of the Winter Wood, please don’t let it! I have very little knowledge of Judaism, I don’t know any Yiddish and I didn’t struggle at any point. There are phrases and words that aren’t spoon-fed to you, but why should they be? The writing is good enough that you can pick up everything you need to know from context. The character’s Jewishness is crucial to the story and it adds so much depth to the characters, to Liba’s inner struggle and the overall plot, that I’d hate for it to be diluted down. If you’re really wary, go for the audio-book as the narrator’s tone gives you a little extra help in understanding the meaning of the Yiddish. I also found it helpful to hear words I might not have recognised if they were written down.
I honestly adored this book, and I really think it deserved to be more loved and hyped than it is. Don’t sit on this one like I did.
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