The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden:
Blog tour and review.
Today I am part of the blog tour for the beautiful haunting tale which is the Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.
The Girl in the tower is the second book in the Winternight Trilogy of which the first book is The Bear and the Nightingale.
I am in the privileged position of having recently read both books which has left my heart pounding, my head reeling and my imagination well and truly fired. I will provide a brief synopsis of the first book in the series which I highly recommend you read first, as a) it helps make better sense of the second and b) It’s blooming amazing and you just don’t want to miss it.
This series admirably fills the gap left by the Abhorsen trilogy (Garth Nix) and His Dark Materials (Philip Pullmann) yet they are completely different based on traditional Russian folklore they seem as old as time, new as freshly baked bread and very, very original.
These are fairy tales with no fluttering glittering fairies. Coming of age novels for 12 to 90 year olds, Grimmer than Grimms fairy tales and filled with demons, some of whom will scare you, most of whom you’ll love. To this mix add wonderful horses you can communicate with and a handsome and enigmatic frost demon to freeze your fingers and melt your heart and you get a tiny flavour of what these books are about.
Did you love the Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey? The Girl with glass feet by Ali Shaw? Ohhhh you’re going to adore this series then.
Now I must admit I found the first book took me a little while to get into, mainly because of its very uniqueness and my total unfamiliarity with anything Russian – Oh and my completely missing the superb glossary until after I’d read it! My tip is; use the glossary of terms and tips before you read these books (Duh, sounds obvious now doesn’t it?) as I found it rather confusing with all the different unfamiliar names, each of which has not one but often 2 or more diminutives, leading me to believe there were, in fact more characters in my book than there really were. Then there are the names of the demons – all new, unfamiliar and unpronounceable!
But once you get your head around the fact that Vasya, really Vasilisa who is called Vasoschka at times (and calls herself Vasilii when she disguises herself as a boy) are one and the same person and that everyone in the book has as many names as this and some are MUCH harder to pronounce – you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the superb narrative and magical storytelling.
Oh my! I’ve been blethering for ages and I haven’t even begun telling you what the stories are actually about!!
The Bear and the Nightingale: Book 1
In this, we meet Vasya (remember her - she’s Vasilisa ……)
Vasya is the girl who doesn’t fit in, different in appearance and in nature to her siblings she would rather be rampaging around the forest than sewing by the fire, in the house where she lives, in a small hamlet in the Russian wilderness. She has a natural affinity with horses and she can see demons – everywhere!
That’s because they ARE everywhere, but not too many folk can actually see them. Vasya can talk to them, she understands them and one day this will be the making of her. But for now, it sets her apart from her family as does her frog-like appearance. Her new stepmother mistrusts her and her father can’t work out quite what to do with his wayward daughter - it's all too easy to get called a witch in these superstitious times.
Vasya doesn’t know quite where she fits in either, but she knows one thing she doesn’t want to be married off to a stranger and neither does she want to end up in a convent.
She has been brought up on folk tales told at her nursemaid Dunya’s knee huddled around the fire in the bitter Russian winter, and the most chilling and fascinating of all the legends is that of the Frost-demon Morosko the winter god who is also the bringer of death in the bitter winter cold.
Little does she know that she is destined to face the Frost King and her story will become entwined with the creature of her childhood nightmares, the one-eyed man who is also a terrifying bear.
This is a wonderful, magical, mesmerising and haunting story of a feisty young woman who defies gender stereotyping in an age where women were expected to be submissive and obedient.
There is much MUCH more to this beautiful story but this review is supposed to be mainly about the second book which follows neatly on from the first. I don’t think I’ll be too guilty of spoilers when I say that as Vasya is also the star of the next book, therefore it follows that in a book of death and bloodshed she is a survivor!
The Girl in the Tower - Book 2
The girl in the tower begins with Vasya, now disguised as a boy, leaving her small village where she is accused of witchcraft and setting off for adventure and hoping to realise her ambition of being a traveller. Carried by her amazing bay stallion Solovey, she journeys towards the big city of Moscow.
On her travels through the vast forest, she discovers that Tatar bandits have been burning villages and murdering the occupants then kidnapping the young girls, This incenses Vasya and being who she is, she steps in to try and help.
Eventually, her bravery earns her the respect of the Grand Prince of Moscow (who of course believes she is a young man) women being kept very much under the control of their husbands and barely allowed to show their faces in public. Their choices are few, marry bear children and obey the husband who has been chosen for you or become a Nun …. ermm and that’s it, not much of a choice there then.
Vasya revels in the freedom being a boy gives her and swears her gender will remain a secret. She eventually reaches her beloved brother and sister, who both left home when she was a small child and of course they also have to keep her identity secret, much as her deception appals them.
Her inborn skill with horses (aided by the fact that she can understand them, soothe and talk to them) also earns her a reputation as a brave young man, a title she longs to keep but as time goes on it gets harder to conceal her femininity.
I will say no more about the storyline, it is wonderful and heart-breaking and utterly joyous storytelling and I don’t want to spoil one tiny moment of your time, with Vasya in ancient Russia.
For, read it you surely must, as I am at a loss as to what else to say to convey how stunning this series is.
This second book is more adult in its themes and even darker than the first and Oh so sad, yet it glows with colour and vibrancy throughout.
Having read the first 2 books back to back I am left bereft and heartbroken waiting in deepest anticipation for the third in the series to come out. Already I am devastated that this is going to be a trilogy and when I do get my hot little hands on the final instalment it will be the last.
If you enjoy this series even 1/4 as much as I did you are in for a rare and delectable treat.
You can buy the Girl in the Tower now.
Connect with the author on her website katherinearden.com
The books are published by Penguin Random House and my thanks go to Random Things Tours for inviting me to join this blog tour and opening my eyes to this world of magic.
For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic...
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...