Navigate / search

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Girl in the Tower continues the story of Vasilisa (Vasya) Petrovna which began with The Bird and the Nightingale. It sees Vasya far from her childhood home of Lesnaya Zemlya and alone in a world of warring factions.

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. . .

By expanding Vasya’s world in this book, Katherine Arden is able to show us how the decision Vasya took at the end of the first book was not the easy option by any means. It also serves to emphasise the extent to which Vasya and her family are in jeopardy. Something which becomes increasingly clear once the action moves to Moscow and we see the mercurial machinations of life at court, how quickly favours are won and fortunes are lost, together with how rapidly unrest spreads throughout the city and manifests itself into a mob.

Vasya’s disguise allows us to experience the stark contrast between the role of men and women. ‘Vassili’ is celebrated at court for his bravery and riding prowess, whereas the time Vasilisa spends with her sister and niece in their tower serves as a reminder of the life she should have led and how limiting that is, let alone for anyone as spirited as Vasya.

Moscow is a difficult place to keep secrets, thriving as it does on rumour and suspicion, so you sense this double life of Vasya’s can’t last and she will be forced to choose between falling into line with her family’s wishes, a more secluded life altogether, or becoming the wilful warrior witch she risks being exposed as. She’ll also learn that not all choices are hers to make. Read more

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #1)

The Bear and the Nightingale had been on my TBR shelf for far too long but with the final book in the Winternight Trilogy out last month, I decided to spend some of my winter nights reading all three books. Here’s what the first one is about:

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. . .

The Bear and the Nightingale is a coming of age tale with a difference and a gorgeous retelling of a Russian fairytale.

Katherine Arden brings medieval Northern Rus’ alive in this, the first book in her Winternight trilogy. So much so that I felt as if I lived through the seasons with Vasilisa (aka Vasya) Petrovna, whether she was running wild through the forest and discovering mysterious creatures alongside new talents of her own, or listening to the old family nurse telling them folktales around the oven in winter. And winters here are of the harshest kind: where the bitter cold and hunger test even Vasya’s family, despite her father being the boyar, or local lord.

Rus’ is in a state of flux: the demons, spirits, nymphs and guardians of folklore are losing their hold on people as orthodox religion widens its reach. And when one priest, newly-arrived from Moscow, embarks upon what feels like a very personal vendetta, it promises to be a dangerous time for anyone who still communes with those traditional spirit-guardians.

Vasya is a terrific character: she’s a wild and spirited tomboy straining against the limitations and expectations of becoming a woman in her society. I really felt for her as she struggles to find a way through where she stays true to herself yet doesn’t alienate her family. You come to understand her need for more freedom and independence than society allows her and wonder how she will ever find her place in the world. I’m looking forward to following her through the next two books and seeing where her unusual gifts take her in what promises to be an exciting and magical deep winter trilogy.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is the first book in the Winternight Trilogy. It is published in the UK by Del Rey, an Ebury Publishing and Penguin Random House imprint here in the UK. I received a free copy of the hardback as part of the Amazon Vine programme and my review is here on the site. The beautiful hardback edition I received is sadly no longer available but it is out as an audiobook, ebook and in paperback. You can buy it from Amazon UK or Hive where purchases support your local independent bookshop. 

For more on Katherine Arden and her books, check out her Author Website, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Katherine Arden is coming to the UK at the end of next month on The Winter of the Witch (Winternight #3) tour and you can find all the dates below. 

Book Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper #TheLostMan #BlogTour

Jane Harper’s third novel, The Lost Man, opens with a death which seems to make little sense. It’s a mystery that’s all the more disorientating for being set in the harsh and unfamiliar landscape of a Queensland summer. Here’s what it’s about:

Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.

Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Aaron Falk, the detective from Jane Harper’s previous two novels, is a no show in this latest book but he’s not the lost man of the title. That distinction seems to be shared between two brothers: the dead man, Cameron, who looks to have strayed too far from his car and become disoriented in the heat, and Nathan, who needs to know whether his brother did so deliberately.

Youngest brother, Bub, may feel sidelined in the family business but it’s Nathan, the eldest, who is cut off from people both physically and emotionally. Divorced and living on his own, except for the present time when his son is visiting from Brisbane, he’s been ostracised by the community, both settled and itinerant, for breaching an unwritten outback code ten years ago. As the novel progresses and you get to know the man better, you can’t help but hope there’s a chance of redemption for him here, together with some sense of release for the family.

Jane Harper’s description of the land and its people is as blistering as the Queensland heat. My skin prickled as I read and I could almost feel the ubiquitous red dust on its pages, as both the mystery surrounding Cameron’s death and the family involved unravel. It’s especially absorbing if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live and work on a remote outback station. What kind of person would you need to be to survive such a life in that landscape? Read more

%d bloggers like this: