Book review: The Girl in the Tower

Katherine ArdenThere is so much to The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, follow-up to The Bear and the Nightingale. A strong female heroine, magical mystical Russian folklore, fighting, horses and danger. Vasya is an awkward teenage girl in the mythical Middle Ages of old ‘Rus who does not like her traditional choice of marriage or convent; in The Girl in the Tower she is older and more defiant. You just know she is heading for trouble. She leaves home to wander and look at the world, refusing to worry about survival in the winter forest, and in so doing stumbles into banditry and violence that has implications for the power of the throne. I read the second half of this at a pace, wanting to know the outcome, not wanting it to end.

A faster-paced book than the first of the series, the two are tightly linked and so I hesitate to give away too much plot. Disguised as a boy, Vasya cannot help but attract attention despite the warnings of her magnificent stallion Solovey. Her exploits bring her to the attention of Dimitri, the Grand Prince of Moscow, and red-haired lord Kasyan Lutovich. Feted for her fearless fighting, Vasya’s disguise becomes more difficult to protect. Reunited with her brother Sasha, the monk who is Dimitri’s best friend and adviser, Vasya must maintain her disguise or risk the lives of her family. The secret must be kept at any cost.

It is a pleasure to read these books, confident that author Katherine Arden has a supreme hold on her material, the legends and the world she has created. And in Vasya she has a heroine who confronts evil in its many forms – the human sort of swords, ambition, bigotry and malicious words – and the superhuman sort of gods and demons, a firebird and magic jewels that confer control. Arden describes this world, and Vasya’s adventures, beautifully. In this second novel she grows from a teenager to a young woman, bringing with it an awareness of attraction and a kiss with a frost-demon. In parallels with heroes of other fantasy fiction – Philip Pullman, JK Rowling – Vasya shows respect for people and creatures which others may ignore and demean, so earning their loyalty and support at critical moments.

These are adult fantasy tales, complicated, dense and a rollicking read. A quite unusual combination. Can’t wait for the third in the series.

Read here how Katherine Arden was enchanted by Russia when she was eighteen.
Read my review of the first Winternight book, The Bear and the Nightingale.

If you like this, try these:-
‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen
‘The Seventh Miss Hatfield’ by Anna Caltabiano
‘The Magicians’ by Lev Grossman

‘The Girl in the Tower’ by Katherine Arden, #2 Winternight Series [UK: Del Rey]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by @arden_katherine #bookreview via @SandraDanby

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