A remarkable young woman blazes her own trail, from the backwoods of Russia to the court of Moscow, in this enchanting novel by the bestselling author of The Bear and the Nightingale 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.
The Girl in the TowerFeatured
Following on from the ending of Bear, Vasya is branded a witch and because she's not content with just being some man’s wife or living in a convent as a nun for the rest of her life, she leaves her village with Solovey. Vasya braves the cold wilderness and doesn't look back, she wants to see the world and experience life but the only way to do this is to disguise herself as a Russian boy.
There was a real sense of adventure in Girl, Vasya finds herself embroiled in a brewing political war between the Moscow royal family and the Khan of Mogul. Vasya cannot stand by while villages are burning and children are being kidnapped and instead risks her life, battling bandits with nothing but her cunning mind and tenacious nature.
Vasya is reunited with her brother Sasha, a priest and right hand man of Prince Dmitry and Olga a Russian princess who is sequestered in a tower with her children and terem. I loved the complex relationship Vasya had which each sibling and how they each battled with the internal struggle of religion and what was expected of women and their role within society compared to their wild sister. As always Arden’s abilitiy to carefully craft a book filled with religion, history, politics and fairytales is truly genius.
I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy Girl more than Bear but I was wrong. Between the stunning prose, the lush world building and a slow burn budding romance, I was completely hooked and found myself reading long into the night. I was absolutely delighted to see Arden include yet more Russian myths and legends, such as the fire bird, Polunochnitsa and I particularly loved reading about Kaschei the deathless.... and of course my beloved Morokzo. The elusive Frost-Demon is just as thrilling and enticing as always, there weren't enough pages with him in to satisfy my shameless obsession with him!
The Girl in the Tower is a bewitching sequel, with magical writing and stunning prose that transports you to medieval Russia, you would swear you could feel the winter frost nipping at your fingers while reading. Arden takes readers on a thrilling adventure, elegantly weaved with gorgeous Russian history and folklore that keeps you in its thrall until the very end. The Girl in the Tower was easily one of my favourite books of the year and although I really don’t want this series to end I can’t wait for book three!
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.