After I reviewed the first book, Katherine Arden’s publisher reached out and asked if I wanted to review this one as well. Of course I jumped at the chance! The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite books last year, so I fully expected The Girl in the Tower would at least live up to that one. And wow, did it do all that and more.
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.
I made the mistake of beginning this book on the first really cold of the season. If I hadn’t waited so long, I could have read this book while the weather was still mild, even nice. Instead, I waited until I was cold—and then this book made me colder. Such is the power of Katherine Arden’s words and story.
Of course, the real reason I shouldn’t have waited so long to read this book is because it’s so good. Whenever I paused, and I read most of this book while I was at work so there were frequent pauses, I found myself asking, “But how?” How is this book so beautifully written? And how can I write something like this someday?
The first book was set in the snowy forest and a small town in the wintery and perpetually cold landscape of medieval Russia, and Vasilisa was a small girl. This book has its fair share of freezing forests, but it also takes the reader to Moscow in that day, a metropolitan city. Moscow is a place where women are kept in towers, away from the men, and Vasilisa struggles to come to terms with the wildness in her heart in a society that would rather burn her as a witch than let her ride a horse. She handles this by, as the blurb says, disguising herself as a boy and living as she wants. The tone of this book doesn’t suit the “wacky hijinks” that sort of scenario might normally come with, and but it works and is well done all the same.
One of my favorite things about the first book is also back in the new book: the continuing romance between Vasilisa and Morozko, the death god and frost demon. I’m usually all about the gratification—the moment when it all pays off, when they finally both know how the other feels and when they can finally be together—but the slow burn (heh) of this romance is really delightful. Neither of them really knows what to do with the other, given that neither of them falls into the traditional roles of the time and place. Even as they come to realize their feelings, there is still so much going on—outside of their relationship as well as in—that they aren’t given an opportunity for that “climax.” Arden even uses the reader’s expectations of a romance against them at some points, and wow do I need that third book asap.
Finally, this book answers some questions that were left over from the first book—who was Vasilisa’s grandmother?—but also asks new ones—now that we know how her grandmother’s story ended, how did it begin? What I liked best about those questions and answers were how they integrated with the rest of the plot. Her grandmother’s fate has always been a large part of what set Vasilisa on her path, and how that plays out is really well written. I’m already speculating on how the new questions will be answered in the next book.
The Girl in the Tower is written by Katherine Arden and was published by Del Rey Books on December 5, 2017. It is the second book in The Winternight Trilogy. My review for the first book can be found here.