The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

Sisters ofThe Sisters of the Winter Wood is quite a bewitching little story.  I would say that it wasn’t exactly what I imagined when I initially requested a copy and yet I feel it worked really well for me even if it did stray more heavily into the area of romance than I normally like.  Strangely enough, in spite of the fairytale feel and the use of folklore this is a story with a serious heart that isn’t afraid to tackle issues.  At the same time it’s a sneaky little number because I think it works on many levels.  There’s certainly plenty of food for thought here and Rossner doesn’t shy away from difficult topics but at the same time I think you could read this quite simply as a fairy story with the elements that you’d expect such as the house set deep within the woods, the parents who have to leave the two daughters to fend for themselves, etc.

The story begins with an introduction to two sisters Liba and Laya.  They live a sheltered life with their parents, a happy existence although the beginnings of unrest are beginning to creep into their lives, troubling times ahead for Jewish people in particular.  At short notice Liba and Laya’s parents are called away on urgent family business and the two sisters are left to fend for themselves.

I’m not going to delve into the storyline too deeply because there were certain aspects of this that were surprising and they were elements that I found myself really enjoying, particularly the shape shifting.  In fact that’s the one element to the story that really feeds into the darkness and serves eventually to cause the two sisters to become less close – but more of that in a moment.

This is going to be another review of thoughts.

Firstly the two sisters.  They both love and care for each other and a lot of the narrative is hinged upon this.  At the same they’re quite different in nature, one sister’s nature running to strength and the other sister’s nature being somewhat more flighty.  Liba takes after her father and Laya takes after her mother.  I will say that this aspect of the story really resonated with me.  I have an older sister – although she’s barely older than I am and in fact we were both born in the same year.  My sister was constantly likened to our mum and I was frequently told how alike I was to my dad and to be honest, at that age it’s not particularly something you want to hear so I could relate well to Liba.  She suffered from doubt about her looks, her weight and about her own place in the family dynamic but, in spite of that her love for Laya remained firm.  During the read I didn’t like Laya as much as Liba.  I think the author was going for a fragility of nature that I tend to find a little annoying and on top of that her feelings towards her sister never came across as well not to mention she made a number of rather dubious decisions that made me want to shake her.  That being said I would say that this tale has not so much of a coming of age feel as a sexual awakening.  With the parents removed and the introduction of more freedom both of them become much more aware of the men within their environment and so when a troupe of handsome young fruit sellers enters the scene, well you know things are going to spiral out of control fairly quickly.  Added to this are the family secrets and the secrets that the girls are keeping from each other in a bid to try and protect one another from harm.  A lack of communication that in the long run proves to be quite costly.

Alongside of this is a storyline inspired by the Goblin Market.  A tale of deception with goblins and glamours and honeyed fruit that belies it’s true nature.  And on top of this is a historical feel to the story in terms of the actual unrest that was taking place at the time revolving around the Jewish people and the hardships that were looming.

I really enjoyed the writing but then I do like fairytales and anything that has foreboding forests and people that can change into creatures instantly wins me over.

In terms of criticisms.  There is quite a lot of romance although I didn’t particularly mind it – just worth a mention particularly as it felt a little rushed in some respects.  The real issue that gave me pause for thought was that the underlying story here is one of persecution, about people’s fears and insecurities and the way in which these can be used to cause unrest.  I suppose to some extent it almost feels like this setting, with its fairytale feel, is almost inappropriate for such a heavy topic and yet upon reflection I think I appreciated that the author was using this medium and it’s many metaphors to tell a story that was fantastical whilst at the same time being historical.  This is a story that has many messages and I think it will appeal differently to varying ages for that very reason.  The romance has a YA feel, there are beautiful glamorous boys, forbidden fruit and dangerous liaisons, there are the dark woods and the creatures stalking them but then there is the whole feeling of a period suffering from turmoil and unrest.

All told I enjoyed this.  I can’t deny that it’s quite different from what I expected but in a good way.  As with all fairytales it’s a strong message wrapped up a a golden nugget of storytelling and with a hopeful ending to conclude upon.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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13 Responses to “The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner”

  1. Shalini

    Thank you for sharing this… I have this book and I was wondering when to delve in it

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Wonderful review, thank you for sharing it!
    I am intrigued by the many layers of this book, and the many angles from which the story can be explored: when I saw this title I was somewhat dubious, but now you have piqued my curiosity to no end… 😉

    • @lynnsbooks

      Well, I thought there were a few things going on here – and I’ve probably missed some nuances. But, there’s definitely the coming of age/becoming sexually aware. The whole shape shifter thread felt almost like an exploration of different characteristics and in another way it was showing the girls coming to terms with their own nature. Then there was the unrest and the stirring up of hatred towards the Jewish people. Plenty to think about.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I’ve been curious about this. I think if I’m in the mood (accepting of the YA romance and such), it sound like something I could enjoy

    • @lynnsbooks

      I like a lot of the ideas that are explored – I was surprised by the romance because it did become quite the focus but I still enjoyed the book although like Mogsy said, there does seem to have been something of an explosion of these style of books recently.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I really enjoyed this one too, though I probably would have appreciated it even more had I read it a year or two ago before the trend for books like these exploded, if you know what I mean…I’m thinking books like Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale. I also had a hell of a time getting used to reading Laya’s chapters because of the verse, lol.

    • @lynnsbooks

      The verse did seem a bit gimmicky to me too. And, I know what you mean about the explosion in this type of book. I hope it calms down a little because it’s starting to become a bit tiring – and I love fairytale retellings.
      Lynn 😀

  5. waytoofantasy

    Oh, I’m even more excited for this one now. I’m a romance fan, I didn’t even realize this one had romance in it. Can’t wait to read this one. Great review!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you like it – I’d say the romance has a decidedly YA feel to it which is why I felt it might appeal to a crossover audience because the themes involved are quite thought provoking.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Tammy

    I’m excited to start this. Hopefully soon!

  7. September : My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner […]

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