Tag Archives: Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

the girl in the tower

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: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the-bear-and-the-nightingale

Rating: ★★★★☆

Vasilisa – Vasya – has grown up not knowing her mother who died shortly after she was born.  A source of frustration to her family, she is more interested in climbing trees and exploring the Russian wilderness than she is in sewing and other more widely accepted female pursuits.  When Vasya’s father decides that it is time for him to remarry, it is due in no small part to wanting Vasya to have a mother-figure to look up to, and hopefully one that can take her in hand where all others have failed.

When he returns from Moscow with his new wife, Anna, in tow, it’s immediately apparent that she and Vasya are not going to get on, although they have more in common than they realise.  Anna is a fiercely devout Christian, and forbids the family from following “the old ways” – an order that is reinforced by the arrival of a new priest and his dismay at their “demon worship”.

Soon, the crops begin to fail, and misfortune descends upon their village.  Vasya does what she can to honour the spirits that protect their settlement, having realised that their folkloric rituals have more of a purpose than many suspect, but she soon faces a bigger issue as it becomes apparent that an evil presence seeks to unleash itself upon the world – a presence that they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to.

Vasya is a fantastic character, and one who evoked a whole range of emotions for me.  The attitude to young women at the time this is set is that, upon reaching a certain age, they would either marry the man her family chose for her or enter a convent, and neither of these options is at all palatable to Vasya:

Always someone else must decide for me.  But this I will decide for myself.

I loved her determination to make her own choices, even as those choices meant that she became increasingly alone and cut-off from those around her.  I also cheered her courage throughout the novel as she sets out to single-handedly protect those around her, despite the punishments and scant thanks that her actions result in.

I did find The Bear and the Nightingale a little slow-paced to begin with.  The initial part of the novel introduces the characters to the reader and gives a sense of time and place, but there isn’t a great deal that actually happens.  It’s worth persevering with if you feel like this, however – whilst it may be slow to start, once it got going I couldn’t put it down.

The Bear and the Nightingale is Arden’s debut novel, and is a beautifully written evocation of winter and old Russian folktales.  It has been compared to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and the works of Neil Gaiman.   I was also reminded of Hannah Kent’s The Good People (which isn’t out until next year) in the clash between Christianity and more traditional beliefs and rituals.  I understand that there are two more novels planned in this series, and I can’t wait to find out what this spirited young woman gets up to next.

The Bear and the Nightingale will be published on 26 January 2017.  Many thanks to Tess Henderson for providing a copy for review.