The Sisters of the Winter Wood Book Review

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The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

From Goodreads: 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.

Thanks to Netgalley for giving me an E-book ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I first saw this book at YALC and thought it sounded pretty intriguing, so when I had the opportunity to request an ARC of it, I was very happy to be approved. First of all, I really have to take a moment to gawp at the cover, because it is just so stunning. The design is very intricate, and reminds me a little of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert and the upcoming King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo. The more you stare at it, the more is revealed.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a lushly descriptive fantasy novel with a gorgeous and rich fairy-tale undercurrent. There were clearly a lot of influences that went into the crafting of this book, and I loved trying to figure them out as I went. One of my favourite influences in this book is Christina Rossetti’s poem The Goblin Market. Rossner expertly weaves in lines from the poem, as well as nodding towards it in many other tiny allusions. It’s really quite masterful. There’s also lots of Russian folk tale influences worked into it, which I couldn’t always pick out, but definitely appreciated. I really liked how Laya’s chapters were written in a kind of poetry form. It read nicely and I thought it added a lot to her character and what we knew about her. It was a little risk technique-wise that paid off.

Initially, the book was a little hard to get into. The story centres around two Jewish sisters who are ostracised from their village because their mother converted rather than being born Jewish. There were a lot of terms and phrases I was unfamiliar with, which made it difficult to read at the start, but there is a glossary at the end which should make it a lot easier for people buying physical copies of the book. As much as my unfamiliarity with these words made it hard for me to read this book at my usual pace, I did appreciate how much culture was packed into this novel. I loved seeing all the religious terms and names for all the different foods that appeared in The Sisters of the Winter Woods. It really brought the story to life. I’d also advise readers to continue at the end of the novel to the author’s notes, as there’s some fascinating bits of history about Rossner and her own life that will likely impact on how people interpret the book. Most importantly, I think the book did a really great job of highlighting issues of antisemitism and the dangers of violence and prejudice in society. For me, the true horrific moments in this book were not down to the supernatural elements of the plot, but what the humans were capable of doing and believing.

The main drawback of this novel for me was the way the transformations were dealt with. The latter sections of the book were a bit confusing, and I had some difficulty in keeping up with where people were and what was happening. While I loved all the different influences in this book, the moment when all the strands come together is a tad suffocating. It seemed like the ending relied quite heavily on a lot of coincidences and it felt a little bit rushed to the conclusion, rather than it being natural. Additionally, I struggled a bit to connect to the sisters. I liked both their characters, but they just didn’t seem as bright and alive as they could have been. There wasn’t a whole lot of character development outside of their relationship to each other and the love interests in the book, and the secrets their mother imparts on them at the start of the book. I think it might have been a bit of a stronger novel if we got a sense of Liba and Laya’s likes and dislikes, and their plans for the future. Personally, I don’t think I got much of a sense of that.

However, overall I’m giving The Sisters of the Winter Wood a 7/10 stars. I loved the fairy-tale feeling of the novel; there was something very creepy and gothic in the descriptions and atmosphere that the book built up. I thought the merging of all the influences was also very well done, although it fell a little short at the end of the novel and I struggled a bit to connect to the main characters. I’d definitely be interested in reading another book by Rena Rossner, and I might be tempted to buy a physical copy of this book when it is released on 27th September in the UK.

Has anyone else read this book or plans to? What did you all think of it? I love to hear your opinions on books I’ve read and/or my reviews, so please feel free to leave your comments in the comments section below ❤




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