Monday 24 February 2020

, , , , , , , , ,

Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (#Ad)

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

I received this eProof for free from Ebury Publishing via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Published: 25th January 2018 | Publisher: Ebury Publishing | Cover Design: Head Design | Cover Illustrations: Aitch | Source: NetGalley
Katherine Arden's Website

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...
From Goodreads

My other reviews of the Winternight Trilogy:
The Bear and the Nightingale (#Ad)

WARNING! I cannot review this book without spoiling the others in the series. Read no further if you're planning on reading this series and don't want it spoilt for you.

After absolutely adoring The Bear and the Nightingale, I desperately needed to continue with Katherine Arden's second book in The Winternight Trilogy, The Girl in the Tower. So I bought it as soon as I finished the first, and dived right in. And it was just as incredible as the first.

It starts with a prologue that starts exactly where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, with Vasya riding off into the forest towards Morozko's dwelling after leaving home for good. But then it jumps to Moscow and we get to see a little of Vasya's older sister Olga and her life in the terem as Princess of Serpukhov for a while, before jumping to the perspective of their older brother Sasha, who is a monk, and close adviser to the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitrii. The story follows him, Dmitrii and Dmitrii's men when they hear of bandits are burning down villages and stealing away young girls. After weeks of searching, they come across a young man who has rescued three young girls who have been stolen by bandits - but Sasha recognises this young man as his younger sister Vasya.

Then the story jumps back to follow Vasya in the weeks between her going to Morozko and turning up with the three girls she's rescued. Vasya has decided to be a traveller. She's turning away from convention and has decided to see all the things she's heard about, but would otherwise never get to visit. Morozko tries his hardest to dissuade her, but she is determined not to live the life ordained for her because of her gender - a wife or a nun. She wants to live. And so with supplies from Morozko, despite thinking better of it, off she goes - with the advice that if she meets anywhere along the way, she should pretend to be a boy, because it's not safe for a young woman to be out on her own.

I can't really talk too much about the rest of the story without spoiling things, but the story really picks up once Vasya joins Sasha and Dmitrii. There is at once both less and more of the magical than the first book in the trilogy. For a good while, the main focus is the bandits, who they are, where they girls are, and what's going on there. When things get back to Moscow, they get real interesting, because as Sasha's sibling, Vasya is also one of the Grand Prince's cousins, and he warms to her. And because of this, Sasha can't hide her away or send back home as soon as he would like.

There is a young woman cross-dressing/pretending to be a boy in this book, and I know people have issues with this trope. I don't know enough to really comment on this, so I will just state what I read. Vasya wears "men's" clothes simply because they're more suitable for travel and warmth than "women's". She's hiding away her hair for her safety. She uses the male version of her name - Vasilii - only when necessary for her safety. And it's for the exact same reasons of safety that Sasha, despite being completely scandalised and so angry with her, says she is his younger brother. Because in this world, at this time, a young woman on her own among the Grand Prince's men will be raped. This is just the given, accepted truth. If a woman is not at home with her family, or in a convent, then what is she doing? She is then fair game, and she's asking for it, basically. A woman must live within the strict boundaries the patriarchy has given her, or she deserves all she gets.

But believing her to be a boy, Dmitrii and his men treat her in a way she's never been treated before. It's for safety, but people thinking she's a boy brings so much freedom. Because there is no pretence in behaviour - just Vasya being herself with a different name - she finds herself accepted for who she is in ways she's never experienced before, because it's perfectly fine to be who she is, as long as she's male. So you can just feel how things are going to go terribly wrong - because for a girl to pretend to be a boy is shameful, even "unnatural" (transphobic undercurrents) and to deceive the Grand Prince so? It's just a catastrophe waiting to happen. In a way, I guess you could consider Vasya's story a real fantasy, because the life she lives, the things she does, would absolutely have not been accepted at that time.

Going back slightly to how she is treated as Vasilii and how she is treated as Vasilisa, there is a stark, stark difference. To be who she is as a woman is wrong. It's not right, it's not normal - it's not natural. And The Girl in the Tower further explores the accusations of being a witch that Vasya is on the receiving end of, because they have absolutely nothing to do with anything magical. The fact that she sees the chyerti and speaks with them, and her relationship with Morozko, aren't common knowledge - no-one knows. There's no superstition around the accusation. She is simply a witch because she doesn't act the way a woman should. She isn't meek and mild, she isn't quiet and reserved, she isn't content looking after the home and mending. She's bold and brave. She has passion and strength. She's wild. She's a witch.

'Sasha looked at his sister. He had never thought of her as girlish, but the last trace of softness was gone. The quick brain, the strong limbs were there: fiercely, almost defiantly present, though concealed beneath her encumbering dress. She was more feminine than she had ever been, and less.
Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name.' (p 304)^

I used the word "relationship" earlier in regards to Morozko, but I don't want to give the wrong impression; it's not a romantic relationship - at least not yet. But Morozko is definitely feeling some things he was not expecting at all. And it's really not good for him at all. Morozko narrates small parts of the story, and we find out more about him; how he came to be and why, his immortality, how magic works in regards to his existence. And the effect Vasya has on him. He needs her specifically, needs her to wear the necklace he created, in order to keep living, but she's changing him in ways he did not foresee, in ways that could be hazardous. I do really like Morozko, there's so much mystery about him, so much we don't know, but I can't help be drawn in by him. He's not exactly a villain, but he does have his own motivations, and he is Death, pretty much! But he's also kind and caring, and I do think he's kind of lonely. And it looks like there's a lot more to Vasya, as well, in regards to what she's capable of, so much she doesn't know, but we get glimmers of through Morozko's reactions. And I am so intrigued! I am intrigued by where her story will go, what will happen between her and Morozko, and finding out more about him. But it's quite obvious where their relationship will head, and it's possible people may have issues with that due to the fact that he's been around for centuries, and she's a teenager.

I absolutely adored The Girl in the Tower, and I am so incredibly excited to read the third and final book in the series, The Witnter of the Witch, but also really sad, because I don't want this series to end!

^Quotes have been checked against a final copy and are correct.

Thank you to Ebury Publishing via NetGalley for the eProof.

You might also like:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Over to you graphic

What do you think of historical stories, and how they show the lack of rights and opportunities available to women? Do you enjoy fantasy stories that feel like fairy tales? What are your favourite retellings of lesser known, non-Grimm or -Andersen stories? Have you read, or will you be reading The Girl in the Tower? Let me know in the comments!

If you enjoyed this review,
please consider buying the book using my affiliate links, and following / supporting me:
Bloglovin' | Twitter | Goodreads | Ko-Fi


Post a Comment