If you haven’t read The Bear and the Nightingale, don’t keep reading. You won’t understand and I don’t want to ruin the series for you.
For everyone else, the Winternight Trilogy is just getting better.
Vasya has fled her home in the wake of her father and stepmother’s death and the defeat of the one eyed god. But the forest is cold and unforgiving and of course the ever present frost demon Morozko arrives to help her. A constant savior, he is a source of endless frustration for Vasya. She only knows one thing, that she wants to be free, to see the world the way a woman in medieval Russia cannot. Morozko warns that as a woman, the human world is not so kind to her gender. Always stubborn, Vasya takes off into the wilderness with her horse Solovey.
Her brother, the warrior monk Sasha, has bigger problems. Bandits are destroying the countryside, killing the men and kidnapping young girls. With the help of a mysterious young lord Kasyan, Sasha convinces the grand prince of Moscow to hunt down these bandits. Who should they encounter in the woods, rescuing three little girls but Vasya herself? Thinking quickly, Vasya passes herself off as a man. She is safe as long as she doesn’t reveal herself. But the mysterious Kasyan appears to know her secret, and the return of an old foe signals a greater threat to her and the city of Moscow.
There’s a couple more important plot points but I don’t want to spoil all of it here for you. Again, Katherine Arden fills her book with some of the best prose around. It really is beautiful. Deftly bouncing from haunting to gorgeous, this book really is a reader’s delight. An inspiration for all young authors.
The first novel felt a little too young adult for me – especially with some of it’s more violent tendencies. The Girl in the Tower sits firmly in the mature section, embracing the violent time period it takes place in. I really felt it when Vasya described how her knife entered a man’s neck like a sigh. Beautiful. Gross. There are moments of violence, a moment where I was so filled with rage I was shaking, and moments of love. I wouldn’t describe this book as a romance, but there’s some great romantic tension in here.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the novel is a character choice that feels like it’s in there just to become a problem later: Vasya refuses to cut her hair. Even though she’s pretending to be a man. The reasoning being she likes her hair and it’s winter so she can put her hood up and no one will see her long braid. Uh what? So she’s just constantly wearing a hood? Nitpick magee right here.
A little more lore, a little more magic in this one. I don’t think a lesser writer would be able to handle this novel like Arden does. I’m very excited to read the final installment. And let’s all hope that the eventual movie adaptation doesn’t go all twilight on us.
3.5 out of 4 stars.