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.
Katherine Arden ups the ante in The Girl in the Tower. Despite the time spent with her Moscow relatives, Vasya’s never felt more alone or as if so much is resting on her shoulders. She not only faces a confrontation with an old adversary, made more powerful after his return to Moscow, but stronger, darker forces are also at work. With little support except from her rather magnificent horse, Solovey, and the old guardians, who are even weaker in the city than they were in the countryside of her childhood, she will have to draw on every last reserve in order to survive.
Setting Vasya’s personal battles and internal struggles alongside the wider and more complex political and territorial manoeuvring raises the tension and what’s at stake in The Girl in the Tower. It also shows how some creatures such as the spirit-guardians and the winter-spirit have been weakened, more earthly ones face challenges to their powerbase, while other more malign influences only gain in strength and increase their hold and reach. It sets up the clamouring, competing factions of Rus’ wonderfully well for the battle that you sense is coming to their wintry world with the final book of the series in a rich blend of folklore, fairytale and history wrapped up in some captivating storytelling.
The Girl in the Tower is the second novel in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy and it is published by Del Rey, an Ebury Publishing and Penguin Random House imprint here in the UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback and paperback. You can buy it from Amazon UK or through Hive which supports 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.