Title: The Girl in the Tower
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.
This is the promised follow up of my The Bear and the Nightingale book review, as I look into its sequel, The Girl in the Tower. If you haven’t checked out my first review, it would be wise too. I’ll link to it here.
As I stated in my Bear and the Nightingale book review, the first novel of the Winternight trilogy did leave me feeling quite disappointed. Despite the novel being a fairly enjoyable read, I felt like the hype had been built up for the Bear and the Nightingale far too much, and upon my first reading, it left me feeling deflated. Nevertheless, my interest was piqued, and I left my local independent bookshop with Arden’s sequel wrapped in a paper bag.
Set just after the events of the first novel, Vasilia Petrovna (Vasya) is forced to go on the run after being accused of witchcraft thanks to mysterious deaths of her father and stepmother.
After roaming the wilds of Russia (known as Rus in this context, as the title Russia wasn’t coined until hundreds of years later) on her stallion Solovey and having near-death experiences, Vasya stumbles upon a series of villages that have been burned and pillaged. Survivors tell Vasya – who has disguised herself as a man after realising how dangerous it is to travel alone as a woman during this time – that all the young girls have been kidnapped by a host of blood-thirsty bandits.
But after a bloody encounter, Vasya is soon welcomed into the court of the Grand Prince of Moscow, and she soon discovers that not all is well within this secretive world. And it is up to Vasya to discover whether she has the true strength to save the city and inhabitants from a fate worse than a band of bloodthirsty mercenaries.
For this novel, I think it’s safe to say that Arden’s writing really come into its own. I think reviewer Alex Brown (on Tor.com) states rather succinctly in her review of this book:
If The Bear and the Nightingale was a fairytale about a girl caught in the middle of a battle between two old gods, The Girl in the Tower is a coming-of-age story about a young woman figuring out what she wants from life.
The character of Vasya, who we read about her birth and growing into a fairly precocious and fiery little girl through the first book, has matured into a young woman whose position in this medieval country is balancing on a knife-edge. However, we don’t initially get to see Vasya, but get to read about her sister Olga and brother Sasha.
Having the first few chapters dedicated to Olga was a pleasant surprise, as Olga leaves the narrative halfway through the first book, and we don’t get to hear about her marriage or life as a Princess in Moscow at all. So to read all about what she had been doing was a refreshing change in my mind.
The second book deals less with magic (unless you could the chapters with Morozo and the very last half of the book) but more about the politics of this civilisation. To read about a fantastical Russia during the mid-14th century was a treat for a Russian historian like myself, and I found myself googling things long after reading it to sate my interest. I really enjoyed reading about the dynamics and scheming between the higher classes of society.
The book also has touches of romance in it, as a strange sort of love blossoms between Vasya and the frost-demon Morozo which, in theory, shouldn’t be considered but Arden has written is so well, that you do sort of wish they end up together.
I feel like the story progressed in a much easier way this time. Maybe it was due to the number of characters Arden has added in this novel, as within the first book, things tended to get muddier towards the end. Or it could be just due to the fact everything fell together a lot neater and the story came together well at the end.
I am curious to see what Arden will do for the last book in this trilogy however, as I believe she tied everything up well here. I will probably end of buying it, as I felt that this novel really did redeem itself from its predecessor.