The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
|Book Name:||The Girl in the Tower|
|Publisher(s):||Del Rey (US)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Historical Fantasy / Fairy Tale|
|Release Date:||December 5, 2017 (US) January 25, 2018 (UK)|
Katherine Arden’s debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, was as charming and magical a debut novel as you could hope to find in 2016. Drawing comparisons to Neil Gaiman, Naomi Novik, and Robin Hobb, Arden’s debut became a bestseller, but more importantly, it marked the introduction of an incredible new voice, one that repackaged Russian fairy tales for a modern audience.
In the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, Arden’s lyrical prose and rich setting remain as charming as ever, as Vasya encounters new challenges and even higher stakes. Having fled her village at the conclusion of The Bear and the Nightingale under suspicion of being a witch, Vasya finds herself at a crossroads. Knowing that marriage or life in a convent could never suit her need for adventure, Vasya takes to the road, disguising herself as a boy and riding her magical horse Solovey into the woods.
But Vasya finds even more adventure than she bargained for when she comes across a village that has been raided by bandits, men who have been terrorizing the countryside, burning, killing, and even stealing young girls. Determined to save the kidnapped children, Vasya soon finds herself alongside the Grand Prince of Moscow, her brother Sasha, and her sister Olga as they each play their role in defending the kingdom from a mysterious new threat.
The re-introduction of Sasha and Olga adds an important flavor to the book, as we see where their lives have taken them since they departed the small village where they grew up. It is particularly interesting to see the way the siblings behave, and the similarities they possess with Vasya, particularly in the way Olga runs her household and the monk Sasha struggles to settle down, opting instead for the adventure of being a counselor and friend to the Grand Prince of Moscow. In fact, after the prologue, the early pages of the book focus exclusively on Sasha and Olga, creating a cleverly written moment when Vasya makes her sudden appearance, a moment that proved just as surprising to me as it was to the characters.
Vasya continues to be an easily relatable character, and you can see the many ways in which she has grown more decisive and confident since we first met her as a girl in The Bear and the Nightingale. But while Vasya remains relatable, she certainly is a flawed character who makes impulsive or poor decisions with easily foreseen consequences. In some ways, this proves a strength for the book, as Arden refuses to flinch from the heavy consequences Vasya’s choices can have for herself and her loved ones. In other ways, however, as Vasya’s mistakes led to predictable outcomes, it made the plot somewhat less exciting.
The worldbuilding continues to be a great strength for the series, as Arden takes Vasya out of her tiny village and into Moscow, where the grand prince plays a dangerous political game. For the sake of the story, and to maintain the fairy tale influence of the series, Arden can’t dive into the complicated politics of the prince, the Mongolians, the church, and many others that colored this period in Russian history, but she hints at it, making the reader aware of the wider world of complexities lurking just behind the surface of what Vasya sees.
It’s an interesting balancing act in a book that is, by necessity, slightly darker than its predecessor. There certainly is more action and danger, as Vasya finds herself in several battle scenes, but there also is greater emphasis placed on Vasya’s limited life choices. Vasya chooses to become a “traveler,” as she puts it, but it quickly becomes apparent that if she didn’t have the frost-demon Morozko watching over her, her adventuring would have come to a quick and likely tragic end. For women of this time period, Vasya’s choice would have been impossible.
Speaking of Morozko, Vasya’s relationship with the Winter King plays a significant role in the story. This portion of the plot didn’t especially do anything for me, but those who enjoy supernatural romance in their fantasy almost certainly will be delighted by the way Arden continues to develop their relationship.
For those who enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower will not disappoint. Those who haven’t read first book in the series would be best off starting from the beginning – The Girl in the Tower makes several references to events, characters, and locations from the first book, and it may prove difficult to understand Vasya’s magic without the foundation the first book provides. Fantasy-Faction’s review of The Bear and the Nightingale is available here.
Many thanks to NetGalley for providing an advance copy.