Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
You don't have to know and love Russian folklore to appreciate Arden's fabulist-and fabulous-debut novel, which tells the story of how Vasilisa Petrovna, a village girl with royal bloodlines and more mysterious, magical antecedents, saves her corner of medieval Russia's wild north and effectively all humankind. At her rich boyar father's house, little Vasilisa delights in her old nurse's tales about Morozko, the death-god, the frost-king, who spares a maiden unafraid of him. Vasilisa, whose mother died in childbirth, runs wild as a child and cannot be reined in by her God-fearing new stepmother, brought from Moscow and terrified because she sees-and resists-her new home's house spirits. Vasilisa has befriended them and the woodland spirits, but the arrogant new priest inveighs fiercely against the old beliefs, and the ever-helpful spirits weaken as the fearful villagers stop leaving them gifts. Soon, cold, starvation, and death creep into the community, and -Vasilisa must battle the raging bear loosed by the villagers' perfidy and representing a fate worse than death. In fact, the frost-king, death himself, echoes the legendary stories by helping her. VERDICT Fleet and gorgeous as the firebird, a highly recommended exemplar of -literary fantasy. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/16.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Arden's debut is an earthy, beautifully written love letter to Russian folklore, with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate in 14th-century Russia. Vasilisa "Vasya" Petrovna's mother, Marina, died while giving birth to her. Her father, Pyotr Vladimirovich, loves her; he also resents her for his beloved wife's death. But Marina made Pyotr promise to take good care of Vasya, saying that she was special, and indeed she is. While her father and brothers seek marriage arrangements among royalty in Moscow, Vasya, now a teenager, refuses to be married off; instead she wanders the verdant woods of her father's rural estate, communing with spirits of home, wood, and water. When a young, arrogant priest is sent to her village, the people turn away from their old ways, and the spirits that keep them safe begin to fade. It's up to Vasya to protect them, but her father marries Anna, the daughter of Grand Prince Ivan II, who believes the wood spirits are demons and wants to kill Vasya or confine her to a convent as punishment for consorting with them. As a fierce winter storm rages, Vasya must save her family while embracing the magic that lives inside her. The stunning prose ("The blood flung itself out to Vasya's skin until she could feel every stirring in the air") forms a fully immersive, unusual, and exciting fairy tale that will enchant readers from the first page. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow and Nesbit. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal Review
Reading Arden's debut novel is like listening to an entrancing tale spun out over nights in the best oral tradition. This mesmerizing fantasy takes place in medieval Russia, at a time when women had but two choices in life: serve their appointed husband by bearing his children and taking care of his household, or serve God in a convent. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either. She has been a wild thing since birth, escaping her household duties to run free in the forest and conversing with spirits only she can see. But Vasilisa's behavior is taken in stride until a charismatic priest comes to her father's village, convincing his patronage that their custom of leaving offerings to curry favor from the spirits is sacrilege. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. When first crops and then villagers begin to die, Vasilisa's unladylike behavior and refusal to follow the priest's teachings mark her as a witch in the villagers' eyes. But she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist whom teen girls will want to emulate. She knows her own mind and heart and refuses to succumb to societal expectations, and her beauty stems from self-confidence rather than physical appearance. Arden's lyrical writing will draw teens in and refuse to let them go. VERDICT A spellbinding story that will linger with most readers far beyond the final page.-Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Gracefully threaded with Russian fairy tales and a tactile sense of place, Arden's debut tells the story of Vasya, daughter of a supposed witch, in the northern reaches of medieval Russia. As a child, Vasya's conversations with wood sprites and household spirits were an odd, but tolerable, feature, but when her father marries deeply pious, troubled Anna, Vasya learns to keep her otherworldly friends a secret. They don't stay secret for long, however: a fanatical priest quickly catches on, and he becomes obsessed with Vasya's salvation, while Anna roils with anger over her stepdaughter's brazen disregard for propriety. Most treacherous of all, two supernatural beings, Morozko and Medved, see powerful opportunities in Vasya's gifts. And while Vasya tries to ward off Medved's nefarious grasp on her village, political rumblings from Moscow threaten their status quo, and the villagers become wary of Vasya's inexplicable talents and boldness. In a lush narrative with the cadence of a fairy tale, Arden weaves an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family. This beautifully written, auspicious first novel is utterly bewitching.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2016 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Ardens supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist.In a village in the northern woods where her father is the overlord, Vasya, a girl who has inherited her royal grandmothers understanding of magic and the spirits that inhabit the everyday world, is born to a mother who dies in childhood. Raised by a kind father, an anxious and spiteful stepmother, a wise nurse, and four older siblings, the feisty and near-feral girltoo tall, skinny as a weasel, feet and face like a froglearns to talk with horses and befriends the household and forest spirits that live in and around the village. These, say the handsome young priest who has been exiled to serve their household, are demons and deserve to be exorcised. The battle between Vasya and driven Konstantin, who spends his free time painting icons, fuels the plot, as does the presence of two of the old gods, who represent death and fear. Arden has obviously immersed herself in Russian history and culture, but as a consummate storyteller, she never lets the details of place and time get in the way of a compelling and neatly structured narrative. Her main story, which has the unmistakable shape of an original fairy tale, is grounded in the realities of daily life in the time period, where the top of a large stove serves as a bed for the elderly and the ill and the dining hall of the Grand Prince of Moscow reeks of mead and dogs, dust and humanity. Even minor characters are given their own sets of longings and fears and impact the trajectory of the story. Arden has shaped a world that neatly straddles the seen and the unseen, where readers will hear echoes of stories from childhood while recognizing the imagination that has transformed old material into something fresh. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.