Thursday, 25 January 2018

Review: 'The Girl in the Tower (Winternight #2)' by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)I started my review of The Bear and the Nightingale in all-caps, violently demanding more. I would have done the same for The Girl in the Tower, except that I don't think Caps Lock can actually express my desire accurately. I devoured the first book in the Winternight trilogy in a single night and, unfortunately, did exactly the same for The Girl in the Tower. Then I spent some time just happily staring at it, deeply satisfied. In the paragraphs below I have tried to put my fangirling into words, hopefully they make sense. Thanks to Ebury Publishing, Del Rey and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 25/01/2018
Publisher: Del Rey; Ebury Publishing

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...
The second book in a trilogy often has the hardest job of all. On the one hand you need to keep readers entertained and invested, but you can't just do the same thing as you did in the first book. You also need to prepare the board for the epic finale still to come without making your moves too obvious. Not many sequels manage to do all this, but The Girl in the Tower does so beautifully. Arden advances the plot, widens the world within which her characters move and, above all, allows her characters to grow and develop! While The Bear and the Nightingale beautifully showed Vasya growing from child to girl, The Girl in the Tower shows her growing up and becoming a woman. And with that Arden gives stunning commentary on the role of women in society. I hadn't expected the gentle ferocity (this is not a paradox, trust me!) with which Arden articulates the limits upon women and the pain this causes. She doesn't force this realisation upon her readers, doesn't shout it in their faces, but rather shows it throughout the novel, expertly following that maxim 'show, don't tell'.

Vasya was one of my favourite heroines of the last year and this is even more true after reading The Girl in the Tower. Although Arden moves between different narrators into this book, showing us the minds of Vasya, Sasha and even Morzoko at times, Vasya remains the heart of the Winternight Trilogy. As I said above, Arden shows her developing and changing without betraying who she is as a character. She remains spirited and passionate, with a heavy serving of stubborn, but also deeply dedicated to her family. But she also learns and grows. While The Bear and the Nightingale's action was limited largely to Vasya's father's estate, The Girl in the Tower sees her literally riding into the big wide world, dressed as a boy. While she faced dangers back home, greater threats await her and she has to adapt to meet them, which happens naturally. Arden builds up her world believably, introducing, in some cases re-introducing, more and more power players without losing the plot. The stakes increase as well, with more being at risk for both Vasya and those she loves, but Arden keeps it realistic. Once I finished The Girl in the Tower I contemplated for a bit and realised there is literally nothing I could even contemplate complaining about in this book. In a way this makes my job incredibly difficult since there are only so many ways you can express your love for something before you look crazy, but I'd rather have it this way than any other.

Arden continues to bowl me over with her books. Whether she has me gripping my sheets during action sequences or actually giggling like a teenager over certain moments, Arden is continually evoking something in her readers. Her descriptions of Russian nature and Moscow's architecture are stunning and her research into Russian folklore and history really shows itself in how natural the two flow alongside each other. In some ways The Girl in the Tower is the perfect historical fantasy book, grounded enough in fact to allow the fiction to shine. Arden strikes a fine balance between a modern and a mythical tone. Her heroine is an intrinsically modern one, coming up with phrases like the one below:
'Bogatyry ride the world, rescuing maidens. Why not I?'
On the other hand there remains that sense of the old, the ancient and the legendary. Certain descriptions, certain turns of phrases, they create the perfect mood in which magic is not only possible, but natural. In The Girl in the Tower Arden also continues her dance across the fine line that is romance. There are enough hints there to keep everyone content, but Arden never sacrifices her heroine or her plot to the desire for A Grand Romance.

Actually, I have thought of one criticism: why is it already over? Why couldn't it just go on forever? I need that third book straightaway. Although, maybe take your time with it, Katherine. I don't think I can handle this trilogy's future end quite yet.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

I literally couldn't have asked for more from The Girl in the Tower. Everything I wanted to see and things I didn't even know I wanted, Arden delivers in this book. It is a perfect continuation of the Winternight trilogy and has certified her as one of my favourite contemporary writers. Please do yourself a favour and read this book!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds so awesome! I still haven't read the first book in this series but I suppose I had better hop to it. I had no idea that this was going to be a trilogy, then again I've been out of the game for several months. Glad you loved it!