The Winternight Trilogy #2
By Katherine Arden
When I first read The Bear and the Nightingale last winter, I was enthralled. With all the magic of a Russian folktale, it stood out to me as one of my favorite novels of the year, and maybe of all time. So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard there would be a sequel: in fact, it’s now going to be a trilogy! And when the publisher offered me a chance to read The Girl in the Tower, I pounced. And I’m in love all over again.
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.
Without her father to protect her prospects, Vasya takes flight to avoid being hunted down as a witch. She must pretend to be a man to survive in this brutal world, leaving her small town for the first time and exploring the wonders of the world. But things are not that easy: when she proves herself to be a hero, the Grand Prince of Moscow wants her – believing Vasya to be a him – by his side. Reunited with her siblings, Vasya knows her cross-dressing could be their downfall. But what other choice does she have?
The interesting thing I did not expect in this novel was the shift of perspective. We now see many events from the eyes of Vasya’s brother, Sasha: a monk who seems more at ease wielding a sword than living in seclusion. We also get a limited point of view from Olga, Vasy’s sister, now a wife and mother. It’s interesting to have them as supporting characters: Olga finds purpose in her traditional female role, while Sasha has the freedom (as a man) to take on any role he wishes as a monk.
But when we’re with Vasya, my heart pounds. I love her character. She’s a strong, wild woman whose stubbornness grows even more in the pages of this book. She’s not as reckless as she was in the beginning of The Bear and the Nightingale, but she’s still headstrong, just smarter at picking her battles.
Morozko returns, and his relationship with Vasya grows as well. At first, I found myself a little put off by having such a powerful being paired with such an inexperienced girl, but this was actually discussed in the book, which really impressed me. And now, I have to say, I ship it. There’s something really unique in this relationship that talks to me.
The Magic really is here, with more elements of Russian folklore intertwined with the plot. It’s fascinating to be brought into this world, but also sad to see that magic dwindling and dying. Just as with the Bear and the Nightingale, the Girl in the Tower addresses the end of the age of magic, when religion takes over the myth.
I could keep talking for ages about this book, but I’ll try to be brief: if you loved the Bear and the Nightingale, then The Girl In the Tower is not one to miss. The ending is insanely amazing, and heartbreaking, all at once. You’ll fall in love with the characters, the magic, with Rus, and especially Vasya.