8 October 2018

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


#Book Two of the Winternight Trilogy

 ('read' as Random House Audio)

Fantasy / Folklore
Medieval
Russia

The second book in Arden’s Winternight Trilogy picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off. Vasya is fleeing her home village, where her father is now dead and the villagers, at the urging of the nasty priest Constantine, are calling her a witch. Vasya plans to go to Moscow to her older sister Olga. On the way, though, she discovers groups of bandits raiding and burning villages, stealing children, murdering the folk who live there, and is determined to put a stop to it. She dresses as a young noble boy and begins harrying the bandits and recovering children as she can. Eventually, she encounters her brother, Sasha, who is out with their cousin Dmitrii, also hunting the bandits. Although Sasha is horrified that his sister is dressing as a boy, they have to maintain her ruse because Dmitrii is fooled and charmed by the boy he thinks Vasya is, and it would cause him to lose face to admit he had been fooled, as well as ruin Vasya’s reputation. As they continue the hunt, they are joined unexpectedly by another, unknown young nobleman, Kasyan, who offers his aid in hunting the bandits because he claims his own lands have also been raided by them.

In time, Vasya and the men return to Moscow where Olga is brought into the secret of her sister’s traipsing across the country as a boy. Olga is furious and only with great reluctance goes along with continuing the ruse, for she understands the political ramifications, but eventually, of course, Vasya is found out. She is called a witch and thrown into the women’s tower, as sure a prison for her as any dungeon cell, and is bound for a convent when she learns the truth about one of the noblemen and his plans. Vasya has to find a way to help save her family and the rest of Moscow before an evil demon can take over as Grand Prince of Moscow.

There are few things I didn’t love about this book. It’s pretty unique for the second book of a trilogy not to be mostly fluff and filler, but this one was outstanding. It had a solid plot, tons of character development, and action all the way through. Paired with Arden’s ability to craft gorgeous atmosphere and intriguing characters, this is a masterful work in its own right.

I love the lyrical style of Arden’s writing. I listened to this on audiobook, which I mostly do while driving, so I didn’t get a chance to bookmark any spots. I wish I could have done so because there were dozens of times that I thought to myself, “That’s a beautiful line” or “What a cool word” and would have included some quotes in my review. But alas. In general, though, the writing added a sense of surrealness that heightened the magic in the story.
Vasya’s development throughout was strong. She started out as a girl, but not a child, and by the end had grown into a young woman. She had some hard lessons to learn in this novel, and being who she is, had to learn them the hardest way. Everything that happened to her has served a purpose, and will help hone her into a strong woman able to face the challenges that will come in the final book of the trilogy.

The focus on gender roles throughout the novel is empowering. I love a good feminist fantasy! Vasya throws traditional roles out the window when she refuses to marry or to go to a convent, which were the only two options available to a girl of her social status at that time. She further stomps on them when she dresses as a boy and goes gallivanting around the country all by herself. Well, she has Solovey, her sentient magical horse, as her companion, but most people she knows wouldn’t count that. Her freedom when she is passing as a boy serves to underscore the stifling life that highborn women have to endure once she gets to Moscow and sees how her sister lives her entire life in the women’s tower, never leaving or going outside except to go to church. There is also the accusation of “witch” that follows Vasya from her village to Moscow. In a way, Vasya is a witch because she can, indeed, see the nature and house spirits that many others cannot, and she can speak to horses, and she is fearless and bold. She is a role model for brave girls, not meek and timid ones, and so a witch she must be. All girls should have a role model like Vasya.

Also, all girls should have a horse like Solovey.
I may not survive the wait until the third book comes out!

© Kristen McQuinn




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