The Girl in the Tower is the second novel in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, following on from her debut, The Bear and the Nightingale, and I was delighted when the lovely Tess Henderson sent a proof copy my way.
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…
To get the most out of this novel, you really do need to read The Bear and the Nightingale first, as it gives you the background on the characters in The Girl in the Tower and their circumstances. And what characters they are! I absolutely adore Vasya, whose indomitable spirit forces her to reject the two life choices that were available to women at the time – that of marriage and childbearing, or a convent – each of which results in them being shut away, never to see the world. Finding neither choice palatable, Vasya forges her own path, disguising herself as a boy and choosing to travel, something that is unheard of for women. And whilst she is vastly unprepared for the wider world, she does get a little help along the way.
This help comes from a few kindly souls who pity (and I think it is largely pity, rather than sympathy or understanding) Vasya and her desire to roam, as well from various Chyerti – spirits, or devils, that people used to believe in, but that Christianity has relegated to myth and folklore. Except that Vasya, and a few others, can see them, and still honour the old ways, showing respect and tribute to the Domovoi – the household spirit – for example, and the Bannik – the bathhouse guardian – mischievous beings that may help, but also hinder. Morozko – a frost demon, the winter king – in particular, takes an interest in our heroine, although I won’t say too much about that.
I absolutely love the folkloric influences that Arden incorporates into her novels. Indeed, each of her books is loosely based upon a fairy tale, with Arden’s wonderful narrative bringing the tale to life in a new and exciting way, and incorporating the folklore of the time. Beautifully written, her novels also successfully conjure the Russia of old – the challenges faced by the nation, the history with the Tatars, and the politics of the time. Arden’s descriptions of places are so vivid that it’s easy to picture yourself in a young Moscow, or in the forests to the north from which Vasya has emerged.
I liked The Bear and the Nightingale, but I LOVED The Girl in the Tower. I loved the action and the mayhem that ensues as Vasya strikes out on her own against everyone’s advice and wishes, and I enjoyed seeing more of Morozko in this novel, who I’ll admit that I’m a little smitten with. I felt that the story got underway a little more quickly in this novel, with less need to set the scene and introduce the characters. A brilliant second novel, and I can’t wait for the third in the series.
The Girl in the Tower will be published in eBook on 5 December, and in hardback on 25 January 2018. Many thanks to Tess Henderson for the advanced proof copy.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐