The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – Book Review.

Title: The Girl in the Tower

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 4/5

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.

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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.

The Bear and the Nightingale – Book Review

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.


As I think I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for anything Russian based. I love the history of this vast country, and it’s true that within history comes different cultures and tales. And the mythos around Russian folklore is just so far removed from the fairytales that I grew up with as an English girl, I feel constantly drawn to them.

So when I read the back of The Bear and the Nightingale in my local Waterstones, I knew it would be right up my street.

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Set in a village during the infancy of feudal Russia (nearly two hundred years before Ivan the Terrible) The Bear and the Nightingale has factual and fictional base around the culture of this remote part of the world – a time in which religion and the command of the land holds sway over the everyday Russian’s lives, and sorcery and folklore as real as breathing.

But for a young woman Vasya; the last daughter and child of the kindly but gruff boyar Pyotr Vladimirovich and his dead wife Marina, these aren’t just stories. As Vasya can see the house spirits that guard her home and surrounding areas, and she can sense when the growing forces of dark magic are breaking free from the wild forests of Russia’s landscapes.

There are a few things I loved about this book. One being that in the last few years, we’ve had a good spate of Russian inspired fairytales (see my review for Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon review) and I think this novel fits in very well with exploring this wonderful culture. The writing was very lyrical and the working in of the Russian words and terminology made the story come alive in a very real way.

I enjoyed some of the character depth – especially with Father Konstantin’s interest in Vasya turning into something far more than religious interest in the young woman, and his shame about these developing feelings (felt very Judge Frollo from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame here), along with Vasya’s transformation from a wild young girl into a young woman.

However, this book does have its negative points. I felt the story lost itself halfway through, and the jumble of different spirits and how Vasya affected the balance of the world made for quite a mess when reading it. Towards the end, when the climax and tone of the book should be at its most urgent and pronounced, there wasn’t any tension. It played it safe, and for a book that really could have been fairly violent and almost squeamish, it felt almost boring to read. The book seems to meander quite a lot, and never really hits home about the point it’s trying to make.

Unfortunately, the character of Morozoko (A Russian-esque Jack Frost character) gets lost with his characterisation. I felt like when he was explaining himself and his conflict with his twin (these two were supposed to be really central and important characters) his story never really made sense and didn’t make him memorable.

I wanted more of him and this sort of folklore and less of the house and stable spirits we were subjected too.

However, despite all this, I am curious about the sequel – The Girl in the Tower – despite all my negative thoughts, so I probably will pick it up to see whether it improves. Expect a review on this too.

Overall, a good premise and lyrical book, but one that falls short on delivering.

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Feature image credit – TheGryphon.co.uk

What I’m Reading Wednesday – 21st February

Featured image credit – webreaktheblock.com

 

After a long spell away from blogging, I really want to return to this platform with love. So here’s my first 2018 ‘What I’m Reading Wednesday Post’ – something I hope to do every month or so to keep readers in the loop:

Questions?!

1: What have you finished reading.

2: What are you currently reading.

3: What will you read next.

 


1: What have you finished reading?

I’ve just today finished ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden – a novel I thoroughly recommend to every fairytale fan.

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2: What are you currently reading?

Tonight I’m going to start ‘Dangerous Women: Part I’ by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Not only do I love badass tales of women, but anything set in the Game of Thrones universe.

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3: What will you read next?

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. This book has been staring out at me from my bookshelf for too long.the-winter-palace-cover

 

My next blog post will be a review of Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones.