The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Published: December 2017
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy
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, the second book of the Winternight trilogy, starts immediately where The Bear and the Nightingale ended. Vasya is free from her village and wants to see more of the world. Her desire leads her to trouble in Moscow, and the rumbling undercurrents of war and oppressive religion. Is she to be trapped as a boy and become a warrior for the Grand Prince, or locked in a tower as a girl to be wed or sent to convent? And what does the prince of night, winter, death, and darkness have to say about it all?
Of these two books so far, the first is my favorite. It stands out in my mind because it was full of medieval Russian culture, mythology, history, and lore. It was a commentary on religion mixed with paganism and magic. However, this book was far more political and battle-hungry, and it worked well with Vasya’s character and her need for adventure and freedom. While The Bear and the Nightingale has a clear-cut villain, with a tangible beginning, middle, and end in plot arc, and a cast of recurring characters, The Girl in the Tower felt far more realistic to life (even with its magical elements). Characters come and go depending on the location and political situation, all the characters from her village do not appear in here (of course they wouldn’t — Vasya’s left them all behind!), and newer, more immediate events take place that require Vasya to look deeply into herself and her motivations and goals. The romantic thread is far more prominent in this novel as well, and it felt appropriate to Vasya’s character growth — I was pleased to see that.
By the end of the novel, Arden has set the stage for what’s no doubt going to be a spectacular showdown. I’m curious to see where Arden takes us next.
This qualifies as book 11 of 16 in my TBR challenge.