The Girl in the Tower
Katherine Arden’s enchanting first novel introduced readers to an irresistible heroine. Vasilisa has grown up at the edge of a Russian wilderness, where snowdrifts reach the eaves of her family’s wooden house and there is truth in the fairy tales told around the fire. Vasilisa’s gift for seeing what others do not won her the attention of Morozko—Frost, the winter demon from the stories—and together they saved her people from destruction. But Frost’s aid comes at a cost, and her people have condemned her as a witch.
Now Vasilisa faces an impossible choice. Driven from her home by frightened villagers, the only options left for her are marriage or the convent. She cannot bring herself to accept either fate and instead chooses adventure, dressing herself as a boy and setting off astride her magnificent stallion Solovey.
But after Vasilisa prevails in a skirmish with bandits, everything changes. The Grand Prince of Moscow anoints her a hero for her exploits, and she is reunited with her beloved sister and brother, who are now part of the Grand Prince’s inner circle. She dares not reveal to the court that she is a girl, for if her deception were discovered it would have terrible consequences for herself and her family. Before she can untangle herself from Moscow’s intrigues—and as Frost provides counsel that may or may not be trustworthy—she will also confront an even graver threat lying in wait for all of Moscow itself.
Breathtaking, magical book
This follow up to The Bear and the Nightingale is just as stunning as its predecessor. We met Vasya as a fierce "wild child," now her resolve is strengthening into that of ferociously independent, strong-willed young woman with a mind to carve her own path in the world. She faces the nuances and pitfalls of the Grand Prince's Moscow court in Muscovite Russia, most notably the gender roles that are even more firmly entrenched than those of her upbringing. The stark differences are clearly illustrated as we witness Vasya's adventures while disguised as a boy in contrast with her married sister Olga, confined to the gilded cage of her palace tower.
The conflict between the old gods/household spirits and the expanding church is once again brought into play, creating heart-pounding action that slides effortlessly between the visible and invisible realms. Vasya's interactions with the frost-king were my favorite parts; their evolving relationship is fraught with unspoken history, undeclared emotion, and untapped potential. I look forward to seeing Vasya uncover even more of her personal and familial connection with the spirit realm in the next book.
The Girl in the Tower is altogether a breathtaking read, with the same level of lush language and enthralling description as The Bear and the Nightingale. We get to learn more about characters who were present briefly in Bear, namely Vasya's siblings, Olga and Sasha, along with Moscow's Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich. A certain priest also returns, though his reappearance will not be met with delight. An extremely satisfying book all around!
Advance reading copy received from BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review.