Sisters of the Winter Wood, Rena Rossner – Book Review

Hello humans! I have to be honest with you, this month has a lot of ARC reviews scheduled, sometimes things just pan out that way. One such review is this one, of Rena Rossner’s Sisters of the Winter Wood, a YA/Adult fantasy crossover that plays with ideas of sisterhood, fairytale, and fable. I was very excited to read this, as many of you will know one of my favourite series of recent years has been the Winternight trilogy (The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower) and this felt like it would have a similar feel (or maybe there was just the association with bears, I’m honestly not sure).

the sisters of the winter wood rena rossner

Goodreads Summary:

Captivating and boldly imaginative, with a tale of sisterhood at its heart, Rena Rossner’s debut fantasy invites you to enter a world filled with magic, folklore, and the dangers of the woods.

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.

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One of the great things about fantasy, at least in my opinion, is that you often end up learning a lot about something in reality through the lens of fantasy fiction. I, shamefully, knew very little about the pogroms and this book not only taught me a little but also inspired me to go and do some more research on the subject. I think that is why books from many different intersectional viewpoints are so important, you can learn a lot and you can discover where the gaps in your understanding may be.

Conceptually, I enjoyed this story, the Goblin market is one of my favourite stories to bounce off, I love themes of sisterhood (I never had a sister myself so I like to live vicariously through other characters), and also animal transformation which I like to think feeds twelve-year-old Judith’s obsession with werewolves. All these things and more have been tied into this book, which reads a lot like a first-person fairytale, with that sense of wonder and awe tinged with fear. The only way I can think to describe it is this: you know those creepy gnarled tree roots that are nonetheless quite cool and beautiful? That’s the tone of this story. I know, I know, not particularly specific but that’s the feeling it gave me.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get fully on board with this story because I got so frustrated at the characters. It’s the bad horror movie problem when stupid people do stupid things, bad things happen to them and you, the watcher or the reader, aren’t really inclined to feel bad for them. If it was obvious to one sister that eating the fruit from the suspiciously attractive strangers was a bad thing, why didn’t she mention it to the other sister, more importantly, why didn’t the other sister also know that? That may be a personal preference thing, me projecting my own knowledge of fairytale tropes onto these characters, but it did make me feel less sympathetic to both of them, and that’s quite important in a story such as this.

I also found myself laughing at a lot of the prose, which is entirely a personal preference thing, so don’t take this as criticism, more an observation of the things that amuse me. There are moments in the text where the characters are saying huge dramatic statements and coming to life-changing realisations but, because of the plot, they are always prefaced with something along the lines of “I am a bear” which makes everything feel just a little silly.

All that being said, I think there are people who are going to fall head over heels in love with this story. It wasn’t totally to my taste but it has a lot of ideas that I liked and a lot of people are going to get a huge amount out of it.

My rating: 3/5 stars

I received a digital advanced review copy for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood comes out on September 27th so be sure to order your copy if you want to see what all the fuss is about!

What say you? Is The Sisters of the Winter Wood on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below.



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