Published by Redhook on September 25, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tales & Folklore
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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.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a quiet, captivating tale that follows the growth of two sisters – vastly different from one another – and the secret power that their heritage has passed onto them. I really enjoyed this adult fantasy, and would really recommend it for readers looking for a magical escape into woods that are either enchanted or haunted – take your pick. Rossner writes her Jewish ancestry with heart into these pages, and it is clearly evident within the characters’ actions and beliefs. Along for the ride are familiar tales such as the Goblin Market and magical creatures that come alive with just a thought. The Sisters of the Winter Wood offers a blend of sensuality and sin alongside innocence and hope, leading readers on an emotional yet heartfelt journey that takes place in a rural village.
Something is definitely
It is not glory,
It is something
That wants to burst free.
Told between the alternating POV’s of Liba and Laya, this story begins with the unraveling of secrets deeply hidden within the family. Under whispers and promises, both sisters find out that their parents can turn into animals, and that this ability has been passed throughout thheir respective families. But the parents’ animals – bear and swan – are not exactly compatible, thus driving them towards an isolated lifestyle, on the borders of a small village whose inhabitants side eye their household. But soon, Liba and Laya’s father answers to the call of family and brings his wife along, leaving his two young daughters alone. They must fend for themselves and protect each other from the dangers of the forest that they live in.
However, the dangers may not exactly be from the forest itself, as a mysterious troupe of brothers selling fruits suddenly appear in their village. Laya, the more immature and naive of the two, is immediately enthralled with the juicy fruits they have to offer – and perhaps something more tantalizing than that. Liba herself becomes preoccupied with a new suitor who she starts caring for, but can’t imagine how he would react when her secret ability is exposed. Underlying all of this is the disappearance and eventual murder of several village folk, and the Jewish population being blamed for it. How can the sisters save one another when they can’t even trust themselves?
‘People are not always what they seem. And you are more powerful than you’ve ever dreamed. If you’re ever in danger, you can draw on that power to save your sister, and yourself.’
I personally enjoyed Liba’s character more so than Laya. Laya is a bit of a trainwreck, and her flightiness, curiosity, and innocence leads to some wrong decisions that send her into a downward spiral. Her chapters are narrated through prose, making for a more simple style of storytelling. Liba is older and more withdrawn, but she doesn’t give up on Laya and puts her promise of protecting her sister before her own needs. I love the moments of family and heritage tied into their stories and very characters, as well as the discoveries they make about themselves. It is a story that is driven as much by the characters as it is by the plot. There’s a delicate balance between them that Rossner handles with dexterity, creating an overall sedate yet satisfying pace for readers to enjoy.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a gorgeous, quiet fairy tale that weaves a story of hope and sisterhood using seductive magical elements. I loved exploring the Jewish Ukrainian culture that Rossner draws from her own heritage, and the underlying thread of love that connects everything together. It follows a more sedate pace, and Laya’s immaturity does take some getting used to (she’s young and naive, so I give her that), but overall I think this is a story that fantasy readers will devour. With an enchanting setting like The Bear and the Nightingale by Jessica Arden (review here!) and a solid plot that celebrates Jewish heritage like Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, The Sisters of the Winter Woods is an unforgettable journey that covers love, secrets, and the power of faith.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Trigger/Content Warnings: hallucinations, addition, anti-Semitism
Thank you Redhook for the review copy!
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