[Book Review] THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden

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“Reckless she is, and immodest, and sometimes I fear for her soul. But she is only herself; she is not mad.”

 

 

 

 

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

Author: Katherine Arden

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Published on December 5th 2017


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.

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Source: Freepik

Have you ever experienced reading the first page of a book and knowing instinctively that you will love the author and the story they have to tell?

That was what I felt when I first read Katherine Arden’s The Winternight Trilogy. Because I didn’t post a review for the first book, The Bear and The Nightingale, this review will count for the first book as well. I did post a short review on Goodreads which you can read here.

Katherine Arden has a charm to her prose; it feels as though her words themselves are a bewitchment. She takes her time with her story ensuring that readers come out of her books shivering to the bones with magic. She stays true to the fairytale-esque telling of a folklore but unlike beloved fairytales, Arden painstakingly shapes her characters, molding them so that they stay memorable in our minds.

Vasilisa Petrovna is daring girl bound by traditions and yet straining against them. What makes Vasya stand out from any of the other YA fantasy heroines I’ve read is that she is not extraordinary. From the beginning we are told that Vasya is ugly, too wild, and too outspoken. From young she had been branded a fey, an insult to her reckless nature. Her people have no hopes for her. Vasilisa is not blessed with mindblowing magic, nor is she selfless. She doesn’t possess any traits we’ve come to attach to “badass” women in fiction. Even from the way she interacts with the demons, you can tell that Vasya is only a simple girl with strong beliefs in her country’s older religion. That and her courage makes Vasilisa Petrovna a woman after my own heart.

The characters surrounding Vasya are just as well developed as she is. Each one of them a representation of the expectations that have been laid on Vasya’s shoulder. I love Morozko – the cinnamon demon that he is – although I do wish there had been more of him in the books! He behaves as a sort of conscience to Vasya in his own infuriating and vague way.

I love the family aspect Arden has highlighted in her books. I think one of the themes that have arisen again and again in both books is a person’s capacity for compassion. It is because of Vasya’s compassion for the house spirits that her home is protected; in the end it’s family love that protects our characters. There is a strong attachment between the siblings – Vasya, Olga, Sasha, Irina, Alyosha. But, of course, they weren’t portrayed as the perfect, loving family. Yes, there was love but there was also a lot of prejudices regarding a woman’s place in society.

Oh, and that’s another thing about the book I loved. The book shared its focus on fantasy with societal issues. Katherine Arden didn’t shy away from mincing the layers of medieval society. Besides politics, there are also talks of religious clashes between the old gods and the new gods of Rus’. This was an interesting take because it made me recognize the violence and fear Christianity had instilled in people. It wasn’t a love for God that sent people into the religion but the fear of eternal damnation. For example, we have Father Konstantin who holds himself above others so much so that his pious nature leads him towards the devil. It’s a story of blind devotion.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

IG: biblio.khaleesi

The first book – The Bear and The Nightingale – was slower as it was more about worldbuilding, introducing the characters, and setting the stage for an impending darkness. With The Girl in the Tower, there’s more action and a sort introduction to the politics. While these books are definitely ladened with fantasy, in my opinion, I feel that those are not the highlight of the story.

The Winternight Trilogy is an immersive read of nobility, loyalty, witches, gods, and talking horses! There is so much complexity to the books that sets my pulse raising and my blood tingling with imagined magic.


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I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. However, all opinions of the book is my own.

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