The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction
Maturity Rating: 4
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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.
The Girl in the Tower was not quite as amazing as The Bear and the Nightingale, but was still an outstanding read.
Arden successfully maintained her beautiful writing style. Everything about medieval Rus seems so magical and wonderful. The frigid cold winter really permeated the feeling of the entire book. This book still had a mysterious feel, but the whole thing was a little darker. Vasya deals with more grown-up and human fears than the first book, which is mostly concerned with the supernatural. However, there is still plenty of good mythology! Some of Russia’s most well-known mythological creatures make an appearance in this book, as well as several more obscure characters.
Where I think Arden’s writing really sets itself apart is in the meandering nature of the narrative. The plot is constantly changing direction and going places you wouldn’t quite expect. It’s a little like an episode of the Simpsons in that way: the beginning of the book is about something quite different than the middle or end. As with The Bear and the Nightingale, I found this slower, more round-about story-telling style refreshing and enjoyable.
The wild-girl is becoming a common trope in literature. Vasya is no exception. She refuses to conform to expectations for women, longs for adventure, and even (scandalously) dresses as a boy in this novel. But unlike in other books, in this one Vasya is confronted with the reality that SOCIETY DOESN’T CARE what she wants. I thought this was brilliant, and am instantly bothered that no author has ever brought it up before. At times she is even conflicted between who she wants to be and not wanting to disappoint her family. I loved seeing this inner conflict. It made Vasya so much more interesting than some of her counterparts.
Where I think this book didn’t quite live up to its predecessor was with character development. In The Bear and the Nightingale every character, even minor ones, had character arcs. Konstantine was a fascinating antagonist because he wasn’t just evil, he was complicated. But in The Girl in the Tower, only Morozko really grows. Even Vasya, conflicted though she might be, doesn’t really change. And the antagonist was shockingly on-dimensional. It was disappointing, and the main reason this book received four stars instead of five.
However, the pace of this novel definitely picked up. The main criticism of The Bear and the Nightingale was that it was too slow, and this one was definitely quicker, even if not, you know, FAST.
I still strongly recommend this series to anyone who loves fairy tales or historical fiction. I’m really looking forward to the final installment, The Winter of the Witch!