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