Picture courtesy of Goodreads.co.UK
I could rename this review “the one where Lucinda thinks she knows what her book of the year is, but then changes her mind in the middle of December” because this book…is PERFECT.
I just love it so much.
I absolutely adored the first installment of the Winternight trilogy (The Bear and the Nightingale – review here) and I was sooooooo excited to receive a pre pre pre release copy of the sequel (literally – I did a little scream). Therefore, it has taken a supreme effort to resist reading The Girl in the Tower as soon as I got it. Even though I’m frantically trying to finish off my reading challenges for the year and I’m about six months behind on my netgalley requests, I just can’t wait any longer. The weather is perfect (brass monkeys, snowing, dark, lit by twinkly Christmas lights) so I’m diving in.
And oh, how beautiful it is.
The Girl in the Tower picks up from where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, with Olga in Moscow, Sacha working as a monk and Vasya fleeing her village to avoid either being married off or sent to a convent. Unfortunately, Vasya stumbles upon trouble and has to pretend to be a boy in order to help. This leads to her experiencing the most thrilling adventures as she battles against the forces of evil to keep the local people safe.
That brief summary doesn’t even begin to do justice to this story – but I really REALLY don’t want to ruin it for anyone. You’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s really, REALLY good.
The Girl in the Tower is a full on emotional rollercoaster of a novel. Normally, my notes when I’m reading are pretty sparse, but just look at how much I wrote for this book:
0% – I’m so excited!
1% – What a great opening line. This is going to be good.
5% – stertorous – good word! *files under “potential countdown conundrums”*
Still 5% – Surely that’s not…hmm, I’m intrigued.
8% – You bastard! It is!
9% – A serpent headed sword? As we all know, nothing good ever comes from serpents. Clearly, this is going to go tits up.
Still 9% – Ooh, irony. Bashyna Kostei translates (I think) as Tower of Bones, which makes sense as the area was named after the third starving winter. Feeling smug after reading a Goodreads comment saying “I don’t get it!”. Ever heard of Google love?
12% – I wonder where Vasya is. She’s my favourite.
13% – Yay, there she is! Pleased to see people still mistake her for a boy.
15% – Yes! You don’t need no man/frost demon. Except some of that gold would be useful…
23% – Please don’t die!
24% – Ooh, romance! I know a lot of other bloggers have said they missed a love interest in the first book so maybe this will satisfy them.
25% – Just read the words “hungry eyed”. Now I can’t stop singing “HUNGRY EYES! One look at you and I can’t disguise, I’ve got…HUNGRY EYES!” Probably not what Katherine Arden wanted, especially as I’m now picturing Morozko as Patrick Swayzee.
28% – Clever use of male/female ambiguity in names. Gold star for Ms Arden!
Still 28% – What can kill, creates fire everywhere but leaves no tracks…is it dragons? I REALLY BLOODY WELL HOPE IT’S DRAGONS
36% – A sennight? Like a week? Half of a fortnight? I thought Americans didn’t use these words?
41% – Wait, is her dad…not dead? Maybe?
47% – Yay but OH NO!
50% – CUT YOUR HAIR, VASYA!!!
53% – WHAT?!?
56% – Oh, I love Vasya and Marya together. Also love how hungry Vasya constantly is and how she seems to survive exclusively on bread and cake and pie.
65% – Oh no!!!!!! This is not good. I don’t trust that Prince. I have a theory about why Morozko thought he saw something (someone) at the feast too.
67% – Ok so now I REALLY don’t trust that Prince. Also, I’m a little bit confused about who Olga is married to?
68% – The golden horse is fitting in with my theory…
70% – BASTARD!!!!
75% – I knew it!!!
74% – OH MY GOD! How do they know each other?
81% – Kick him in the balls Vasya!
83% – I was right about my Tower of Bones translation!
84% – OH NO!!!!!
90% – is it…her grandmother?
99% – WOW. JUST…WOW.
As you can see, there’s a bit of everything in this story. Intrigue, romance, magic…dragons? I can neither confirm or deny that last one, you’ll have to read it to find out. You can also see how the excitement builds as my notes get shorter and my use of swear words/caps/exclamation marks increases. Sorry about that.
I think that one of the best things about the book is the usage of language. It is just so. beautifully. written. You could turn to any page and get at least one exquisite quote. I loved how descriptive the storytelling was, and because the novel is set in Russia the dark, snowy environment leant itself perfectly to such a magical, dark fairytale. It was incredibly atmospheric and evocative, and I loved how Katherine Arden wove Russian words into the narrative in such a way that you understood their meaning even though they bore no resemblance to their English counterparts. So clever.
I really noticed the development of the characters from book one and I loved how we got to find out more about each of them now that they had grown up a bit. I was initially worried that this novel would be the awkward middle bit, where everything is set up for a big finale but not much happens, but it isn’t at all like that. Instead, The Girl in the Tower could almost be read as a stand alone novel as it has a proper beginning, middle and end and a narrative arc all of it’s own.
In terms of character development, one of the most noticeable changes from The Bear and the Nightingale is the introduction of a bit of romance. I know other reviewers felt that this was missing from the first book (I didn’t, but each to their own) so I’m sure they’ll be pleased to see a relationship developing. As ever, I thought the way that it was written was absolutely perfect, it didn’t detract from the main action and I loved the fact that the male character was waaay more romantically invested than the female character, who basically had bigger things on her mind.
In keeping with that tone, I did detect a strong feminist ideal running through The Girl in the Tower. Vasya sees that as a girl her options are severely restricted – she can either be a princess locked in a tower producing babies for her husband, or a nun locked in a monastery…not having babies. I loved that she was a total rebel against this repressive society, so she just pretended to be a boy in order to do what she wanted (ride her horse, see the world, have fun etc.) I really liked how hardy and capable she was, and in particular I ABSOLUTELY loved that she wasn’t beautiful and didn’t care about what she looked like. I also adored the fact that she ate cake, pies and wine at every opportunity, was constantly hungry and hardly ever washed. That’s my kind of heroine.
There are so many other brilliant things about this story that I could go on for hours – the use of “real” Russian mythology, the family dynamics, the relationship between Vasya and her horse Solovey…but I would literally be here for days. Instead, I urge every single one of you to just go and read it for yourselves.
Rating: 5/5 obviously. Favourite book of 2017 by far.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!