Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—-but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
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.
I’m a little late to the Winternight Trilogy bandwagon. I think I’m one of the last YA Historical fantasy fans to have read the hugely popular The Bear and the Nightingale and I only picked it up when I was approved for The Girl in the Tower. Although I didn’t review the first book, I was utterly enchanted and my only complaint was that I found it a little slow in the beginning. The sequel is much more action packed, yet doesn’t lose any of the magic and charm of its predecessor.
The Girl in the Tower picks up exactly where the first story ended. Vasya, the heroine, has left her small medieval Russian village, where her life was in danger from her increasingly superstitious neighbors. She’s decided that she wants to see the world, and since it’s unheard of for a girl to be off exploring alone, she decides to disguise herself as a boy. While he doesn’t approve, her mysterious ally and protection Morozko the Frost Demon, aids her when he can. Unsurprisingly, Vasya stumbles across a sinister conspiracy once she reaches Moscow and it’s one that not only puts her own life in danger, but those of her family as well.
Vasya has quickly become one of my favorite YA protagonists. Fiercely courageous and loyal, she struggles to find her true self in a world where women have no say regarding their roles in a paternalistic society. Adding to her woes is how different she is from the other subservient members of her gender. She can see and converse with horses and the magical creatures who are slowly fading as Christianity takes a firmer foothold. She’s viewed with suspicion and fear, even by members of her own family. Despite this, she possesses more moral integrity in her little finger than any of those who judge her. Accompanied by her faithful horse Solovey, she takes so many risks, yet always follows her heart. Between the two books, Vasya evolves from this awkward child who is unsure of her place in the world, to an independent, strong young woman, determined to not let herself be forced into the typical female role of this time period.
The relationship between Vasya and Morozko also continues to grow. But getting in the way of their developing romance are the secrets the Frost Demon stubbornly keeps from the suspicious Vasya. It’s a tricky relationship between an immortal who’s not used to answering to anyone and this young human girl who holds him accountable for his actions. I love the two of them together and I hope there’s even more shared scenes in the final book.
The world building is simply exquisite. It’s incredibly detailed yet this doesn’t get in the way of the action. Katherine Arden perfectly blends 14th century Russian history with fairytale figures. Even the everyday life of the peasants, military, and nobility are brought realistically to life. Everything is set against a vividly drawn snowy landscape which is beautiful yet adds to the dangerous atmosphere.
The Girl in the Tower is a sumptuous literary feast for the eyes and soul. The only reason why I’m not giving this 5 stars is because Vasya refuses to do one particular thing in regards to her disguise and although I feel like I may be nitpicking, it bothered me because it didn’t seem to be in keeping with her character. Otherwise I cannot recommend both books highly enough for older teens and adults. I cannot wait for the conclusion, The Winter Witch, which is set to be released August 14th, 2018.