Published: 5 December 2017
Publisher: Del Rey
Category: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues 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.
Rating: 4 Stars
The atmosphere in The Girl in the Tower is a mixture of dark, forbidding, and embodied the spirit of storytelling in a wholly magical manner. The landscape of Russia was beautifully laid out in the forests and the bitter winter weather. Even more so than the physical landscape in regards to atmosphere, it felt like there was a lot of work put into keeping the people authentic. From names and titles to the attitudes, I felt like these were real people coming off the page, though I did need to pay attention because the names changed depending on gender and relationship, more so than other fiction I’ve read.
This is not a fast reading book. Normally I have issues with stories that take forever to get anywhere, but there are instances of when a slow burn plot can be done well: Memoirs of a Geisha, Rin Chupecho’s The Bone Witch series, and now Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy. I noticed it when I read The Bear and the Nightingale last year and can confidently add the series, most recently with The Girl in the Tower being published, to the list of successful slow burns.
The narrative opens with Sasha, Vasya’s priest brother, and the horror of bandits that seem supernatural in nature and in their capacity for terrorizing the Russian countryside. Then there is some backtracking to Vasya and Solovey’s beginning as travelers and what she’s been doing, how she’s come to meet up with Sasha at a monastery. Nothing is easy and there is always a sense of dread, which made the reading a bit uneasy, but at the same time amazing.
Sometimes Vasya was foolish, always stubborn, but overall I was reminded of what I liked about her from the first book. While the journey was difficult, protecting herself from a life chosen for her, she was determined to find it and her own life. Her strength was present at all times and you could see how much it cost her to brave the world rather than succumb to marriage or a convent.
Solovey was my favorite character: a strong, noble, enormous horse that was companion and mount to Vasya. He was in turns funny and stern and had quite the love of porridge. Morozko was also beguiling and I enjoyed the interactions between him and Vasya. He understood much more of the world and tried to impart this knowledge on Vasya while at the same time allowing her to learn on her own terms, even if that sometime lead to almost deadly pursuits.
I would recommend reading The Girl in the Tower soon after reading The Bear and the Nightingale because it will be easier to remember characters introduced in the first novel and prevent confusion in the second.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.