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.


Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner.

the sistersCaptivating 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.

Due for publication September 2018