Book Review: THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD by Rena Rossner

Title in yellow on black with a border of line drawn branches
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Standalone
CW: Anti-Semitism


book cover for T/HE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD: title in yellow on black surrounded by a border of entwinned branches with animals in them

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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD is a historical work of fantasy, the author’s note at the end explaining it was inspired by the pogroms in Ukraine in the early 1900s that prompted her family to leave for America. It has an eerie, Brothers Grimm fairy tale feel to it, dark and lush and all the more dangerous for it.

It’s a book that could easily be classified as YA or adult, and in fact is often classified as both. The sisters are 17 and 15, which might be why some people call it YA. Personally, the tone and style, not to mention the publisher and where it is placed on UK shelves makes me call it adult.

THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD is about sisterhood and love, rebellion and secrets, community and fear. Liba’s determination to do anything for her sister drives the plot, as Laya is caught up in the enchantments of strange men. I love a book about sisters and the bond between them, even as love muddles everything.

This book alternates POV from Liba and Laya. Liba’s chapters are written in standard prose, but Laya’s are written in verse, which is new to me. I admit to being pre-disposed to dislike verse thanks to how poetry was taught in school and that it’s a style that personally feels closer to the “style over substance” feel I get off literary fiction. It’s just one of those things that’s not for me – I just don’t like poetry much.

It works in that it creates a fragmented, dream-like feeling for Laya’s chapters, pulling out the fairy-enchantment idea and helps create that haunting edge. However, I was honestly glad that verse takes up a lot of space with very few words, as it meant I could read her chapters quickly and get back to Liba and the more traditional prose. Some people will love that verse style and prefer Laya’s chapters, but it was just too disjointed for me and made it really hard for me to get inside her head and feel any emotions from her.

Read my reviews of other books by Rena Rossner:



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