Katherine Arden’s novel The Girl in the Tower transports readers to medieval Russia for an enchanting tale of magic, adventure, and self-discovery. As the second book in the Winternight Trilogy, it continues the story of young Vasya as she comes of age in a world that seeks to constrain her. I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down!
|The Girl in the Tower
|December 5, 2017
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A Fiery Heroine Finds Her Strength
The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, with our fierce heroine Vasya fleeing her village in the dead of night. She chops off her long hair, dresses as a boy, and sets off on her spirited horse Solovey to see the wider world beyond her remote village.
I admired Vasya’s courage and determination to chart her own course in life, even as she faces immense danger as a young woman traveling alone. She’s no damsel in distress, but rather a headstrong and capable heroine. Despite the limitations placed on women in that setting, Vasya forges her own path.
As Vasya journeys to Moscow, she grapples with the growing power of her mystical abilities. She can see spirits that others cannot, including the domovoi that guard the home and the fierce, magical stallion Solovey. I loved seeing Vasya come into her own as she learns to embrace her gifts, even as she risks being seen as a witch.
Vasya’s blossoming courage and strength kept me rooting for her the whole way. She’s an underdog fighting against the societal odds stacked against independent women at that time.
Adventure in a Fairy Tale Setting
Katherine Arden paints a vivid picture of medieval Russian society, immersing readers in the rich setting filled with evocative details. The story takes place in a world of deep forests, snowy winters, horses and carriages, monks and maidens. It feels like stepping into a lavishly illustrated fairy tale book come to life.
As Vasya journeys on, her path crosses with a band of soldiers led by the brave but conflicted Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich. Adventure ensues as she joins their company disguised as a boy and ultimately travels with them to the capital city of Moscow. I was delighted by the dynamic character interactions and the fun, fast-paced adventures Vasya experiences on the road with the soldiers.
The book captures the stark contrast between the simple country life Vasya knew versus the wealth and politics of Moscow. The glittering boyar houses, cathedrals, and the Kremlin are brought to life in atmospheric detail.
A Darker Supernatural Threat
While the first book focused on an ancient evil frost-demon, The Girl in the Tower introduces a new, equally terrifying supernatural threat. A mysterious firebird snatches up Prince Dmitrii’s young niece, and Vasya soon realizes that other children have also disappeared across the land.
I loved the suspense and intrigue of this new magical plotline centering around the firebird’s kidnappings. It adds a darker, creepier element that heightens the stakes for Vasya and her companions. The scenes with the firebird bursting out of pyres or sinisterly watching Vasya from the shadows were downright chilling!
As Vasya seeks to understand the motives behind the firebird while keeping her own abilities hidden, I was constantly at the edge of my seat. Arden weaves Russian folklore and mystical elements so seamlessly into the fabric of the story. The magical and the everyday coexist side by side in a way that makes perfect sense in context.
While the adventure plot was extremely engaging, what I loved most was following Vasya’s personal character arc as she comes to know herself over the course of her travels. At the story’s start, she is restlessly seeking her purpose in life and struggling between multiple identities – daughter of a boyar, sister, pretend boy, independent woman unbound by society’s structures.
As she faces physical and emotional trials, Vasya grows to accept the many facets of herself. By the book’s bittersweet but hopeful ending, she embraces her unique gifts of magic and courage. Her self-discovery mirrors many challenges girls throughout history have faced growing into women in societies that tried to limit them. In the character of Vasya, readers have a tenacious, kind-hearted heroine whose fight for independence inspired me.
From breathtaking adventure to rich historical atmosphere and captivating magical elements, The Girl in the Tower has it all. Katherine Arden’s brilliant storytelling transported me to another time and place that felt magical yet emotionally resonant. Following Vasya’s personal journey of identity was as thrilling as the supernatural dangers she faced. I cannot wait to join her on more adventures in the next book! The Girl in the Tower enthralled me from start to finish.