The Girl In The Tower
by Katherine Arden
The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.
After reading the first book in December and falling in love with it so hard, I knew I had to continue the series but I held myself back because I wanted to read the third book as well and it was bound to come out in January. So, after some atrociously long time, I finally picked up this one and fell in love all over again.
There might be a few spoilers, it can’t be helped with books in series. *shrugs* I’ll try to keep it as non-spoilery as possible I might not succeed.
“Witch. The word drifted across his mind.We call such women so, because we have no other name.”
The second installment in the Winternight trilogy didn’t have the grandest of starts and frankly, for the first fifty pages or so, I was really starting to wonder if I was going to give it three stars at that point. It did not start with Vasya and after the events of The Bear and The Nightingale, I badly wanted to read more about Vasya.
“Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen.”
I was not disappointed at all as the story progressed. As I mentioned in the review of The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden’s writing is brilliantly atmospheric and extremely engaging. We see Vasya growing into a strong, young woman whose ethics are problematic to her immediate family. As I read more, I was just left even more enchanted than I had been with the first book. After the events of the first book, Vasya chooses not the options she’s given but to disguise herself as a boy and see more of the world. Throug the wilds of medieval Russia, she comes across villages being burned down. In trying to help the people, her path crosses with her brother, Sasha the monk and Olga her elder sister who’s now a princess as well as the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitri who also happens to be her cousin.
Arden’s ability to blend fact with fiction and to mix historical events with magical folklore is something else. The adventures and dangers that Vasya and her family face are what makes this book. That coupled with an almost realistic picture of what medieval Russia was actually like, warts and all, made this into a phenomenal read.
“It is going to end, Vasya thought. One day. This world of wonders, where steam in a bathhouse can be a creature that speaks prophecy. One day, there will be only bells and processions. The chyerti will be fog and memory and stirrings in the summer barley.”
The plot and the pace worked really well but all of it wouldn’t have worked without the natural vibrancy and complexity of the characters. From Vasya who we see growing into a truly strong and cunning woman to Olga being absolutely amazing and resourceful in her own way. To say nothing of Sasha and his everlasting struggle between wanting to protect his sister from sinning to wanting to be loyal to his faith/ vows and his cousin. I also really enjoyed the side characters including the small folk and magical beings.
Overall, this book ups the ante and becomes somehow (I am still now sure how) a better book than the first book in the series. This is a series you would want to binge read, trust me.