Tag Archives: Katherine Arden

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower today, and I have a Q&A with Katherine to share with you, as well as the opportunity to win a copy of both The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, courtesy of the publisher, Ebury.

About the Books

The Bear and the Nightingale (Book One in the Winternight Trilogy)

the bear and the nightingale pb

Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.

You can read my review here.

The Girl in the Tower (Book 2 in the Winternight Trilogy)

the girl in the tower

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…

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…

You can read my review here.

Q & A with Katherine Arden

  1. For those who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself, please?

I am an American writer who was born in Texas but now lives in Vermont. I studied Russian in school and worked odd jobs while writing my first book, The Bear and the Nightingale. 

  1. Have you always wanted to write?

No. I thought of doing all kinds of things.  If I weren’t a writer I’d probably be an interpreter.

  1. Moving on to your books, two novels of the Winternight trilogy – The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower – have been published.  Can you tell us a little about them?

They are set in Russia during the Middle Ages and they are a cross between Russian history and Slavic folklore and fairy tales.

  1. What was the inspiration for these novels?

I have a degree in Russian, and I have always loved Russian fairy tales, so writing a book set in Russia and based on a fairy tale was a natural progression. The specific story grew in the telling.

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower borrow quite heavily from Russian folklore, and go far beyond Baba Yaga – was this difficult to research?

No – it was plenty of work, but there are books on the topic if you are willing to dig them up.

  1. Through both books, I’ve loved the Domovoi who can help or hinder on a whim.  Do you have a personal favourite, and if you had to live with one, which would it be?

I’d love a domovoi to help around the house. Although my personal favorite has always been the bannik, the bathhouse spirit. So mischievous.

  1. I absolutely adore Vasya!  Whilst she lives in a different time, I think that she delivers a strong feminist message about choosing your own path that is relevant today.  Is this something that is important to you?

Absolutely.

  1. There’s is one more novel to come in the Winternight series – what can readers expect?

Romance. Death. Personal growth.

  1. And after that?

I have a horror novel for younger readers called Small Spaces, coming out in September in the US. After that we will see.

  1. Looking a little at the writing process, are you a planner, or do you just write and see where the story goes?

I just write and see where the story goes.

  1. How long did it take you to write your two novels?

It kind of went in fits and starts, but I started writing The Bear and the Nightingale in 2011 and the final book was published in January 2017. I started writing The Girl in the Tower in the spring of 2016 and it was just published. 

  1. What sort of novels do you like to read, and who are your favourite authors?

I love fantasy and historical fiction. Favorite writers: Dorothy Dunnett, Mary Renault, Daphne DuMaurier, Patrick O’Brien, Naomi Novik, Hilary Mantel.

  1. Finally, a question that I like to ask everyone – what are the three best pieces of advice you’ve ever been given? (not necessarily writing specific)

Finish what you start

Be patient

Don’t give up

Many thanks to Katherine for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Giveaway

As part of the blog tour, I’m delighted to be able to offer one reader the opportunity to win a paperback copy of The Bear and the Nightingale, and a hardback copy of The Girl in the Tower.  This giveaway is open to UK residents only, and you must be willing to share your postal address with me so that I can send you your prizes!  To enter, leave a comment on this blog post answering this question:

Katherine’s novels feature elements of Russian fairy tales and folklore.  What is your favourite fairy tale or story from folklore?

I’ll pick a winner at random from all entries on 24th January.

Good luck!


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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My Favourite Books of 2017

Each year, I like to put together a list of my favourite books published in the last 12 months.  This year has been particularly difficult to a top 10 list together, and I’ve done multiple versions, each a little different from the last.

Here’s what I settled on, in no particular order.


Defender by G. X. Todd

defender

I absolutely loved this post-apocalyptic novel, the first in a planned series of four.  The second instalment, Hunted, will be published in May, and I’m delighted that my request to read this ahead of publication via Netgalley has been approved.  You can see my full review here.

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice.

Those who do, keep it quiet.

But one man listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

There is a reason why Pilgrim and Lacey must cross paths.

They just don’t know it yet…


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

Oh this novel!  Both happy and sad, I still think fondly on Eleanor months after reading it, even though I didn’t warm to her immediately.  My review can be found here.

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?


For the Winner by Emily Hauser

for the winner

I love a bit of mythology, and Hauser’s second novel delivers a brilliant retelling of Jason’s search for the golden fleece, focusing on the women from this period.  My review is here.

Some three thousand years ago, in a time before history, the warriors of Greece journeyed to the ends of the earth in the greatest expedition the world had ever seen.

One woman fought alongside them.

Abandoned at birth on the slopes of Mount Pelion, Atalanta is determined to prove her worth to the father who cast her aside. Having taught herself to hunt and fight, and disguised as a man, she wins a place on the greatest voyage of that heroic age: with Jason and his band of Argonauts in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.

And it is here, in the company of men who will go down in history as heroes, that Atalanta must battle against the odds – and the will of the gods – to take control of her destiny and change her life forever.

With her unrivalled knowledge and captivating storytelling, Emily Hauser brings alive an ancient world where the gods can transform a mortal’s life on a whim, where warriors carve out names that will echo down the ages… and where one woman fights to determine her own fate.


Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

gather the daughters

An incredibly dark and twisted tale, and as bleak as they come.  Of course I absolutely loved it! My full review can be found here.

Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonised an island off the coast.  They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history.  Only the Wanderers – chosen male descendants of the original ten – are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smouldering fires.

The daughters of these men are wives-in-training.  At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony.  They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die.  But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme.  With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly – they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ hands and their mothers’ despair.  And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.

Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.


Yesterday by Felicia Yap

yesterday

I loved this novel, in which the mono / duo memory works as something of a pseudo-class system, giving a unique edge to this murder mystery.  Full review here.

There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.

You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.

Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police?

Can you trust your husband?

Can you trust yourself?


The Scandal by Fredrik Backman

the scandal

A small-town mystery and ice hockey – what’s not to love?!  This is a fantastic mystery, with a brilliant setting, and one that was an instant favourite.  You can see my full review here.

Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.

For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.

Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. A bright new future is just around the corner.

Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.

With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.

Which side would you be on?


Little Deaths by Emma Flint

little deaths

I didn’t write a full review of this novel, as it’s one that I read on holiday, but I absolutely loved this retelling of a true crime in which the mother was eventually arrested, albeit on flimsy evidence.  My mini review can be found here.

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

little fires everywhere

A fantastic novel that contained so much.  I loved the setting and the characters, and this is a novel that has stayed with me since reading it.  Full review here.

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.


The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

the girl in the tower

The Girl in the Tower is the second novel in Arden’s wonderful Winternight series, and if I liked the first instalment, I loved the second.  Vasya is one of my favourite characters, and I love her determination to be more than those around her think possible.  My full review can be found here.

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…


Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

hold back the stars

I was intrigued by Hold Back the Stars when it was first published in January, but didn’t read it until quite recently.  I loved that this was a mix of genres, delivering a little bit of something for everyone.  My full review can be found here.

Carys and Max have ninety minutes of air left. None of this was supposed to happen.  Adrift in space with nothing to hold on to but each other, Carys and Max can’t help but look back at the world they left behind. A world whose rules they couldn’t submit to, a place where they never really belonged; a home they’re determined to get back to because they’ve come too far to lose each other now.

Hold Back the Stars is a love story like no other.


And there you have my top 10 books for 2017!  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

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: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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.