The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.
Note: This is the sequel to the adult fantasy The Bear and the Nightingale, which you can find my review here! This review will contain slight spoilers.
Following the brilliance of The Bear and the Nightingale comes another tale of love and loss, fear and fortune, and the bravery of one witch-like girl who is ready to change all of Moscow. While I really enjoyed the first book, The Girl in the Tower had some moments where I was a bit frustrated by the characters’ impetuous actions. Nevertheless, the pacing is much more quick and action much more tight. I can’t wait for the last book for this trilogy and to see where Vasya’s story ends up!
The Girl in the Tower starts immediately after the epilogue in its predecessor. Readers follow two point of views that eventually converge. One follows Sasha, Vasya’s beloved brother who left home to become a monk and ended up being quite famous in his travels across Russia. The other follows Vasya as she heads out to find her own adventure as a response to people in her village being fearful of her witch-like behavior. They both end up in Moscow, the heart of the landscape, although under false pretenses.
“‘Should I run away? Go home? Never see my brothers again? Where do I belong? I don’t KNOW. I don’t know who I am. And I have eaten in your house, and nearly died in your arms, and you rode with me tonight and – I hoped you might know.'”
My heart really went out to Vasya in this book. She’s very confused about where she belongs. She knows for sure that she does not want to marry or go to a convent – the two choices reserved for girls of her age at the time – but other than that, what can she do? A lot of what Vasya does in this book is rash and capricious, although I can’t really fault her for it. She’s just a lost character trying to find her way, and the interruptions with Morozko and other small fairy-tale figures don’t really help. Somehow, her brother and her end up in Moscow, unfoiling a plot set in motion to dethrone the Grand Prince, their cousin Dmitri. But all bets are off when secrets are spilled, and the city as Vasya knows it goes up into chaos.
“I wish you’d learn how to fight properly before you start getting into them, the horse said unhappily.”
The two things that really stick with me in Arden’s books are the themes and the writing. Arden’s a phenomenal writer and really captures a reader into her stories. I love the incorporations of Russian folklore that she adds so seamlessly, as well as the small bits of wit here and there in the dialogue. The Girl in the Tower follows similar themes to the first book, of fear pushing people to the brink of madness and greed creating a clear path of manipulation. On the other hand, there’s also the manipulation done because of love and independence. But how are these two different when the end result is the same?
I didn’t quite enjoy this sequel as much as The Bear and the Nightingale, which makes my actual rating more of a 3.5 (although rounded to 4). The wonders of Moscow and political intrigue were fun to read, but I missed the quiet and mystery of the Russian wilderness that was such a huge setting for the first book. Although the end of this book is quite conclusive, I’m excited to see where Arden takes the final book. I’m also loving the progression of the covers, as each book in the series takes on a warmer color scheme. I would really recommend this trilogy for readers who hold fantasy in their hearts. The first book takes a bit to get into, but it’s really worth it! Arden’s writing is captivating and concise, making for gorgeous reads where the pages just fly by.
public exposure, violence, mentions of rape, mass murders
Thank you Netgalley and Del Rey for the review copy!