The Sisters of the Winter Wood — Rena Rossner

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TITLE: The Sisters of the Winter Wood
AUTHOR: Rena Rossner
RELEASES: September 25th, 2018; Redhook/Orbit
GENRE: Fantasy
AGE RANGE: Adult

SYNOPSIS: 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…

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If there are a few things I love in my fantasy stories, they are: 1) good, diverse representation, 2) fairytale vibes and/or retellings, 3) historical settings, and 4) animals and/or shape-shifters. This book checks all those boxes, plus either other chapter is poetry (and if you didn’t know, I adore stories in verse), so basically this was one of the most “on brand for me” books I’ve ever seen in my life and I was absolutely ecstatic to read it.

There have always been rumors about the Kodari forest and the hidden things within it. Now I know we are a part of that unseen world.

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Like all the best fairytales, The Sisters of the Winter Wood is written at the most fascinating crossroads of whimsy and despair, and it works perfectly. The mood of the entire story is captivating and beautiful, but beneath, there lies something sinister, plots of revenge and betrayal, and the tragedy of a society that devalues Jews and women. It’s a fast read, and that’s a good thing, because I could hardly put it down—I had to know what would happen next, whether Liba and Laya would be safe or not, and could either of the sisters fight fate and family to determine their own futures?

Death lives here. Death will always live here.

The writing and plot are pleasant, but this felt like a mostly character-driven story to me, and I loved the way those characters were brought to life. A substantial portion of the story revolves around their family’s beliefs and the ways they are treated—on a lesser note, the disdain cast their way by many other Jews due to their mother having converted to Judaism, and on a much larger scale, the torment that Jewish people have endured at the hands of many.

As I’m not Jewish, I obviously can’t speak from that perspective, but I can say that I thought their beliefs were depicted beautifully, and I loved learning more about Liba and her family’s customs. It broke my heart to see the struggles they faced, and during one scene near the end, I couldn’t stop crying because it had suddenly become so real and sad.

On the other hand, the representation I can speak on is the plus size rep, which I adored. Liba is plus-sized, and her self-doubt worried me at first—would this be another tragic tale of an overweight girl feeling worthless because of her size?—but I quickly realized that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, Rossner paints a realistic and familiar image of a young woman who frets over her size and feels inadequate for it, while her loved ones—including the man who pursues her—find her beautiful and wondrous.

Perhaps there are different breeds of men. What separates one from the other?

On a less tragic note, there are a few different romantic subplots here—the main being between Liba and Dovid, a local boy who she finds herself falling for despite her own self-doubt and reservations. While the development of their relationship definitely struggled with insta-love, Dovid was so genuinely pure and precious and lovable that I couldn’t help but root for them, anyways. The other romantic subplots in the story technically also are insta-love, but they have explanations behind them that I won’t spoil you for—I’ll just say that it’s only a minor flaw in the story.

Beyond the fantasy aspect, the romance, and the lovely representation, The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a story of family love, the mountains we will climb to ensure our loved ones’ safety, and the power of a people who are willing to fight for their beliefs and their survival, regardless of what the world throws at them. It is an absolutely stunning tale in at atmospheric setting that transported me right into the Kodari forest, and by the end, I didn’t want to leave. Rena Rossner is a natural, and I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this gorgeous story and see for yourself. 4.5 stars!

Content warnings for anti-Semitism, minor body horror, abduction, body shaming, murder.

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Orbit for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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Just a 25-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

28 thoughts on “The Sisters of the Winter Wood — Rena Rossner

  1. Yaaaay for four stars! I really like the cover of this one, but felt kind of intimidated by the size of it…haha. But I’m adding it to my TBR now after reading your review! 😀 Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. It looks huge, but don’t worry, it goes by soooo much faster than you would expect it to! Especially being adult fantasy, I thought it would take forever, but I honestly read the first 100 pages in one sitting and the rest in the next sitting. The fact that every other chapter is told through verse makes it breeze by. 🙂 Thank you, lovely!

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  2. “written at the most fascinating crossroads of whimsy and despair” – this is a great and succinct description of these fairytalesque novels. Would you consider this a readalike for Spinning Silver? (I will still check this one out regardless :P)

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    1. Thank you, Jenna. ❤ I would say it is much easier to follow than Spinning Silver, and involves a lot less world-building, but I can definitely see some similarities between the two! I also think that, while Spinning Silver does tackle anti-Semitism in microaggressions and general misuse, Winter Wood focuses more on the violent attacks, pogroms, etc. that Jews have faced, so the anti-Semitism in Winter Wood is a bit more brutal.

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