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A remarkable young woman blazes her own trail, from the backwoods of Russia to the court of Moscow, in the exhilarating sequel to Katherine Arden’s bestselling debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale.
Katherine Arden’s enchanting first novel introduced readers to an irresistible heroine. Vasilisa has grown up at the edge of a Russian wilderness, where snowdrifts reach the eaves of her family’s wooden house and there is truth in the fairy tales told around the fire. Vasilisa’s gift for seeing what others do not won her the attention of Morozko—Frost, the winter demon from the stories—and together they saved her people from destruction. But Frost’s aid comes at a cost, and her people have condemned her as a witch.
Now Vasilisa faces an impossible choice. Driven from her home by frightened villagers, the only options left for her are marriage or the convent. She cannot bring herself to accept either fate and instead chooses adventure, dressing herself as a boy and setting off astride her magnificent stallion Solovey.
But after Vasilisa prevails in a skirmish with bandits, everything changes. The Grand Prince of Moscow anoints her a hero for her exploits, and she is reunited with her beloved sister and brother, who are now part of the Grand Prince’s inner circle. She dares not reveal to the court that she is a girl, for if her deception were discovered it would have terrible consequences for herself and her family. Before she can untangle herself from Moscow’s intrigues—and as Frost provides counsel that may or may not be trustworthy—she will also confront an even graver threat lying in wait for all of Moscow itself.
Praise for The Girl in the Tower
“[A] magical story set in an alluring Russia.”—Paste
“Arden’s lush, lyrical writing cultivates an intoxicating, visceral atmosphere, and her marvelous sense of pacing carries the novel along at a propulsive clip. A masterfully told story of folklore, history, and magic with a spellbinding heroine at the heart of it all.”—Booklist (starred review)
“[A] sensual, beautifully written, and emotionally stirring fantasy . . . Fairy tales don’t get better than this.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Katherine] Arden once again delivers an engaging fantasy that mixes Russian folklore and history with delightful worldbuilding and lively characters.”—Library Journal
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Arden / THE GIRL IN THE TOWER
The Death of the Snow-Maiden
Moscow, just past midwinter, and the haze of ten thousand fires rose to meet a smothering sky. To the west a little light lingered, but in the east the clouds mounded up, bruise-colored in the livid dusk, buckling with unfallen snow.
Two rivers gashed the skin of the Russian forest, and Moscow lay at their joining, atop a pine-clad hill. Her squat, white walls enclosed a jumble of hovels and churches; her palaces’ ice-streaked towers splayed like desperate fingers against the sky. As the daylight faded, lights kindled in the towers’ high windows.
A woman, magnificently dressed, stood at one of these windows, watching the firelight mingle with the stormy dusk. Behind her, two other women sat beside an oven, sewing.
“That is the third time Olga has gone to the window this hour,” whispered one of the women. Her ringed hands flashed in the dim light; her dazzling headdress drew the eye from boils on her nose.
Waiting-women clustered nearby, nodding like blossoms. Slaves stood near the chilly walls, their lank hair wrapped in kerchiefs.
“Well, of course, Darinka!” returned the second woman. “She is waiting for her brother, the madcap monk. How long has it been since Brother Aleksandr left for Sarai? My husband has been waiting for him since the first snow. Now poor Olga is pining at her window. Well, good luck to her. Brother Aleksandr is probably dead in a snowbank.” The speaker was Eudokhia Dmitreeva, Grand Princess of Moscow. Her robe was sewn with gems; her rosebud mouth concealed the stumps of three blackened teeth. She raised her voice shrilly. “You will kill yourself standing in this wind, Olya. If Brother Aleksandr were coming, he would have been here by now.”
“As you say,” Olga replied coolly from the window. “I am glad you are here to teach me patience. Perhaps my daughter will learn from you how a princess behaves.”
Eudokhia’s lips thinned. She had no children. Olga had two, and was expecting a third before Easter.
“What is that?” said Darinka suddenly. “I heard a noise. Did you hear that?”
Outside, the storm was rising. “It was the wind,” said Eudokhia. “Only the wind. What a fool you are, Darinka.” But she shivered. “Olga, send for more wine; it is cold in this drafty room.”
In truth, the workroom was warm—windowless, save for the single slit—heated with a stove and many bodies. But—“Very well,” said Olga. She nodded at her servant, and the woman went out, down the steps into the freezing night.
“I hate nights like this,” said Darinka. She clutched her robe about her and scratched a scab on her nose. Her eyes darted from candle to shadow and back. “She comes on nights like this.”
“She?” asked Eudokhia sourly. “Who is she?”
“Who is she?” repeated Darinka. “You mean you don’t know?” Darinka looked superior. “She is the ghost.”
Olga’s two children, who had been arguing beside the oven, stopped screeching. Eudokhia sniffed. From her place by the window, Olga frowned.
“There is no ghost,” Eudokhia said. She reached for a plum preserved in honey, bit and chewed daintily, then licked the sweetness from her fingers. Her tone implied that this palace was not quite worthy of a ghost.
“I have seen her!” protested Darinka, stung. “Last time I slept here, I saw her.”
Highborn women, who must live and die in towers, were much given to visiting. Now and again, they stayed overnight for company, when their husbands were away. Olga’s palace—clean, orderly, prosperous—was a favorite; the more so as Olga was eight months gone with child and did not go out.
Hearing, Olga frowned, but Darinka, eager for attention, hurried on. “It was just after midnight. Some days ago. A little before Midwinter.” She leaned forward, and her headdress tipped precariously. “I was awakened—I cannot remember what awakened me. A noise . . .”
Olga made the faintest sound of derision. Darinka scowled. “I cannot remember,” she repeated. “I awakened and all was still. Cold moonlight seeped around the shutters. I thought I heard something in the corner. A rat, perhaps, scritching.” Darinka’s voice dropped. “I lay still, with the blankets drawn about me. But I could not fall asleep. Then I heard someone whimper. I opened my eyes and shook Nastka, who slept next to me. ‘Nastka,’ I told her, ‘Nastka, light a lamp. Someone is crying.’ But Nastka did not stir.”
Darinka paused. The room had fallen silent.
“Then,” Darinka went on, “I saw a gleam of light. It was an unchristian glow, colder than moonlight, nothing like good firelight. This glow came nearer and nearer . . .”
Darinka paused again. “And then I saw her,” she finished in a hushed voice.
“Her? Who? What did she look like?” cried a dozen voices.
“White as bone,” Darinka whispered. “Mouth fallen in, eyes dark pits to swallow the world. She stared at me, lipless as she was, and I tried to scream but I could not.”
One of the listeners squealed; others were clutching hands.
“Enough,” snapped Olga, turning from her place by the window. The word cut through their half-serious hysteria, and the women fell uneasily silent. Olga added, “You are frightening my children.”
This was not entirely true. The elder, Marya, sat upright and blazing-eyed. But Olga’s boy, Daniil, clutched his sister, quivering.
“And then she disappeared,” Darinka finished, trying for nonchalance and failing. “I said my prayers and went back to sleep.”
She lifted her wine-cup to her lips. The two children stared.
“A good story,” Olga said, with a very fine edge on her voice. “But it is done now. Let us tell other tales.”
She went to her place by the oven and sat. The firelight played on her double-plaited hair. Outside, the snow was falling fast. Olga did not look toward the window again, though her shoulders stiffened when the slaves closed the shutters.
More logs were heaped on the fire; the room warmed and filled with a mellow glow.
“Will you tell a tale, Mother?” cried Olga’s daughter, Marya. “Will you tell a story of magic?”
A muffled sound of approval stirred the room. Eudokhia glared. Olga smiled. Though she was the Princess of Serpukhov, Olga had grown up far from Moscow, at the edge of the haunted wilderness. She told strange stories from the north. Highborn women, who lived their lives between chapel and bakehouse and tower, treasured the novelty.
The princess considered her audience. Whatever grief she had felt standing alone by the window was now quite absent from her expression. The waiting-women put down their needles and curled up eagerly on their cushions.
Outside, the hiss of the wind mixed with the silence of the snowstorm that is itself a noise. With a flurry of shouting below, the last of the stock was driven into barns, to shelter from the frost. From the snow-filled alleys, beggars crept into the naves of churches, praying to live until morning. The men on the kremlin-wall huddled near their braziers and drew their caps around their ears. But the princess’s tower was warm and filled with expectant silence.
“Listen, then,” Olga said, feeling out the words.
“In a certain princedom there lived a woodcutter and his wife, in a little village in a great forest. The husband was called Misha, his wife Alena, and they were very sad. For though they had prayed diligently, and kissed the icons and pleaded, God did not see fit to bless them with a child. Times were hard and they had no good child to help them through a bitter winter.”
Olga put a hand to her belly. Her third child—the nameless stranger—kicked in her womb.
“One morning, after a heavy snow, husband and wife went into the forest to chop firewood. As they chopped and stacked, they pushed the snow into heaps, and Alena, idly, began to fashion the snow into a pale maiden.”
“Was she as pretty as me?” Marya interrupted.
Eudokhia snorted. “She was a snow-maiden, fool. All cold and stiff and white. But”—Eudokhia eyed the little girl—“she was certainly prettier than you.”
Marya reddened and opened her mouth.
“Well,” Olga hurriedly continued, “the snow-girl was white, it is true, and stiff. But she was also tall and slender. She had a sweet mouth and a long braid, for Alena had sculpted her with all her love for the child she could not have.
“ ‘See, wife?’ said Misha, observing the little snow-maiden. ‘You have made us a daughter after all. There is our Snegurochka, the snow-maiden.’
“Alena smiled, though her eyes filled with tears.
“Just then an icy breeze rattled the bare branches, for Morozko the frost-demon was there, watching the couple and their snow-child.
“Some say that Morozko took pity on the woman. Others say that there was magic in the woman’s tears, weeping on the snow-maiden when her husband could not see. But either way, just as Misha and Alena turned for home, the snow-maiden’s face grew flushed and rosy, her eyes dark and deep, and then a living girl stood in the snow, birth-naked, and smiled at the old couple.
“ ‘I have come to be your daughter,’ she said. ‘If you will have me, I will care for you as my own father and mother.’
“The old couple stared, first in disbelief, then joy. Alena hurried forward, weeping, took the maiden by her cold hand, and led her toward the izba.
“The days passed in peace. Snegurochka swept the floor and cooked their meals and sang. Sometimes her songs were strange and made her parents uneasy. But she was kind and deft in her work. When she smiled, it always seemed the sun shone. Misha and Alena could not believe their luck.
“The moon waxed and waned, and then it was midwinter. The village came alive with scents and sounds: bells on sledges and flat golden cakes.
“Now and again, folk passed Misha and Alena’s izba on their way to or from the village. The snow-maiden watched them, hidden behind the woodpile.
“One day a girl and a tall boy passed Snegurochka’s hiding place, walking hand in hand. They smiled at each other, and the snow-maiden was puzzled by the joy-like flame in their two faces.
“The more she thought of it, the less she understood, but Snegurochka could not stop thinking of that look. Where before she was content, now she grew restless. She paced the izba and made cold trails in the snow beneath the trees.
“Spring was not far off on the day Snegurochka heard a beautiful music in the forest. A shepherd-boy was playing his pipe.
“Snegurochka crept near, fascinated, and the shepherd saw the pale girl. When she smiled, the boy’s warm heart leaped out to her cold one.
“The weeks passed, and the shepherd fell in love. The snow softened; the sky was a clear mild blue. But still the snow-maiden fretted.
“ ‘You are made of snow,’ Morozko the frost-demon warned her, when she met him in the forest. ‘You cannot love and be immortal.’ As the winter waned, the frost-demon grew fainter, until he was only visible in the deepest shade of the wood. Men thought he was a breeze in the holly-bushes. ‘You were born of winter and you will live forever. But if you touch the fire you will die.’
“But the shepherd-boy’s love had made the maiden a little scornful. ‘Why should I be always cold?’ she retorted. ‘You are an old cold thing, but I am a mortal girl now; I will learn about this new thing, this fire.’
“ ‘Better to stay in the shade,’ was the only reply.
“Spring drew nearer. Folk left their homes more often, to gather green things in hidden places. Again and again the shepherd came to Snegurochka’s izba. ‘Come into the wood,’ he would say.
“She would leave the shadows beside the oven to go out and dance in the shade. But though Snegurochka danced, her heart was still cold at its core.
“The snow began to melt in earnest; the snow-maiden grew pale and weak. She went weeping into the darkest part of the forest. ‘Please,’ she said. ‘I would feel as men and women feel. I beg you to grant me this.’
“ ‘Ask Spring, then,’ replied the frost-demon reluctantly. The lengthening days had faded him; he was more breeze than voice. The wind brushed the snow-child’s cheek with a sorrowful finger.
“Spring is like a maiden, old and eternally young. Her strong limbs were twined with flowers. ‘I can give you what you seek,’ said Spring. ‘But you will surely die.’
“Snegurochka said nothing and went home weeping. For weeks she stayed in the izba, hiding in the shadows.
“But the young shepherd went and tapped on her door. ‘Please, my love,’ he said. ‘Come out to me. I love you with all my heart.’
“Snegurochka knew that she could live forever if she chose, a snow-girl in a little peasant’s izba. But . . . there was the music. And her lover’s eyes.
“So she smiled and clothed herself in blue and white. She ran outside. Where the sun touched her, drops of water slid from her flaxen hair.
“She and the shepherd went to the edge of the birch-wood.
“ ‘Play your flute for me,’ she said.
“The water ran faster, down her arms and hands, down her hair. Though her face was pale, her blood was warm, and her heart. The young man played his flute, and Snegurochka loved him, and she wept.
“The song ended. The shepherd went to take her into his arms. But as he reached for her, her feet melted. She crumpled to the damp earth and vanished. An icy mist drifted under the warmth of the blue sky, and the boy was left alone.
“When the snow-maiden vanished, Spring swept her veil over the land, and the little field flowers began to bloom. But the shepherd waited in the gloom of the wood, weeping for his lost love.
“Misha and Alena wept as well. ‘It was only a magic,’ said Misha to comfort his wife. ‘It could not last, for she was made of snow.’ ”
Olga paused in her storytelling, and the women murmured to one another. Daniil slept now in Olga’s arms. Marya drooped against her knee.
“Some say that the spirit of Snegurochka stayed in the forest,” Olga continued. “That when the snow fell, she came alive again, to love her shepherd-boy in the long nights.”
Olga paused again.
“But some say she died,” she said sadly. “For that is the price of loving.”
A silence should have fallen, as is proper, at the end of a well-told story. But this time it did not. For at the moment Olga’s voice died away, her daughter Masha sat bolt upright and screamed.
“Look!” she cried. “Mother, look! It is her, just there! Look! . . . No—no! Don’t— Go away!” The child stumbled to her feet, eyes blank with terror.
Olga turned her head sharply to the place her daughter stared: a corner thick with shadow. There—a white flicker. No, that was only firelight. The whole room roiled. Daniil, awake, clung to his mother’s sarafan.
“What is it?”
“Silence the child!”
“I told you!” Darinka squealed triumphantly. “I told you the ghost was real!”
“Enough!” snapped Olga.
Her voice cut through the others. Cries and chatter died away. Marya’s sobbing breaths were loud in the stillness. “I think,” Olga said, coolly, “that it is late, and that we are all weary. Better help your mistress to bed.” This was to Eudokhia’s women, for the Grand Princess was inclined to hysteria. “It was only a child’s nightmare,” Olga added firmly.
“Nay,” groaned Eudokhia, enjoying herself. “Nay, it is the ghost! Let us all be afraid.”
Olga shot a sharp glance at her own body-servant, Varvara, of the pale hair and indeterminate years. “See that the Grand Princess of Moscow goes safe to bed,” Olga told her.
Darinka was babbling. “It was her!” she insisted. “Would the child lie? The ghost! A very devil . . .”
“And be sure that Darinka gets a draught and a priest,” Olga added.
Darinka was pulled out of the room, whimpering. Eudokhia was led away more tenderly, and the tumult subsided.
Olga went back to the oven, to her white-faced children.
“Is it true, Matyushka?” snuffled Daniil. “Is there a ghost?”
Marya said nothing, her hands clenched together. The tears still stood in her eyes.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Olga calmly. “Hush, children, do not be afraid. We are protected by God. Come, it is time for bed.”
Reading Group Guide
1. Since The Bear and the Nightingale, we have seen Vasya and her siblings grow up and take on new roles as adults in The Girl in the Tower. Many parallels are drawn in this book between Vasya, Sasha, and Olga in their childhood and as they are now. How have they changed? Do you think they have grown closer, or further apart?
2. Again and again, the concept of freedom versus confinement pervades the story: Vasya must choose between freedom alone, life in a convent, or a future tied to marriage; Sasha reflects on his inability to find peace as a secluded monk and his need for adventure; and Olga comments repeatedly on the strict obligations of noblewomen confined to their towers. Discuss this dynamic. What does freedom mean to each of these characters? How much of their freedom should each be expected to sacrifice to their responsibilities?
3. Vasya assumes the role of Sasha’s brother, Vasilii, when she becomes entangled with the Moscow noblemen. Is pretending to be a man a smart move on Vasya’s part? How would the events that unfold have been different if, upon her first encounter with Sasha and the Grand Prince at the walled monastery, she was truthful about her identity?
4. The theme of coming-of-age is prevalent throughout the book, as Vasya reflects on her decision to pursue an adulthood of her own making in contrast to Masha’s very confined choices as a princess. Why do you think it is that with coming-of-age there seems to be a narrowing of choices?
5. Vasya, as she strives to find her place in the world, has to make many difficult decisions, many of which force her to choose between protecting her family and standing up for herself. What obligations does Vasya have to Sasha and Olga? What obligations do they owe to Vasya? How do these family responsibilities interfere with one another, and how do the desires of each sibling interfere with their duties as family?
6. Have you ever felt conflicted about being tied to responsibilities that don’t align with what you want to pursue?
7. Just as Vasya’s revered reputation as Vasilii the Brave has been solidified, all comes crashing down when Kasyan reveals her secret to all of Moscow. Did Vasya make a mistake remaining in Moscow for so long and putting herself and her family at greater risk of her true identity being revealed? Do you think her choice to remain in Moscow for as long as she did was selfish or selfless?
8. Vasya interferes when Morozko arrives to take Olga away, and as a result, he leaves with the life of the newborn child instead. What do you think of Vasya’s decision to intervene?
9. Was Morozko in the right to use Vasya to sustain himself? Do you think his intentions toward Vasya are good, or does he just take advantage of her? Is Vasya right to turn away from him when she learns the truth and rejects his jewel?
10. What do you think will become of Vasya’s tangled relationship with Morozko now that the talisman has been broken?
11. What secrets do you think Morozko still holds?
12. Did you ever begin to distrust Kasyan? At what point did your doubts about him begin? Are there clues that made you suspect that he is not what he appears?
13. What do you think of Konstantin’s role in assisting Kasyan and sacrificing Masha as an act of vengeance against Vasya? What do you think of Vasya’s choice to let him live after he has committed this horrible act?
14. Were you surprised to learn that the ghost of the tower is Vasya’s grandmother, Tamara?
15. By the end of the book, Vasya reveals the truth about herself and her exploits to her siblings. Now that Olga and Sasha know the truth about Vasya’s powers, how do you think this will affect their relationship?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My Review: I received this book via Netgalley, the following is my honest review. I finally finished this book, it didn't take me nearly as long as The Bear and the Nightingale but it still took longer than I expected. This is definitely a book that is meant to be read at a slower pace with all your focus on it. I was too easily distracted by other books that I was reading during the slower parts of the story. Some of the issue for me was the pacing, it would be really slow and things described in detail when there was not a whole lot happening and then when the action would pick up the description was gone and it went too fast. I did however enjoy Vasya's character development throughout this story and my favorite parts were when her and Solovey were together. I loved the bond that they had and the adventures they went on were exciting and dangerous yet honorable. While I did enjoy this story, I really feel like it could use some trimming down, I feel like not all the tangents throughout the book were not truly necessary even though they were tied in nicely. I am intrigued by the third story, hoping it will focus on Masha but by the time it has been released I may have lost interest. My Rating: Like with the first book I really struggle to rate this book, the writing is beautiful but I was so easily distracted, I enjoyed parts of it but as a whole it isn't high on my list. I have to go with a middle of the road rating of Two Paws and a Stump Wag. I really think that some readers will really appreciate the slow pacing of this book and it will definitely work better for readers who focus on one book at a time.
Holds up well to The Bear and the Nightingale. I loved the new fairy tales and Vasya's character development. Can't wait for the third book!
The Girl in the Tower is mystical and intriguing. As a continuation of Vasya’s story, it was engaging and flowed nicely. If you loved The Bear and the Nightingale, you will love this one. My first thoughts for this one were of slight boredom and confusion (and my review may reflect said thoughts). It took me about 30% of the book before I really got in to it. It relied heavily on knowledge of Russian folk tales and gave little explanation. But, having thought about it some more, I found that I could put those thoughts aside when looking at the story as a whole. Between book 1 and book 2, the story did seem to flow pretty seamlessly. My initial thoughts on book 1 were that I would have liked to have more Russian folklore and less Christianity. Book 2 gave me the same thoughts, and I realized that this is meant to weigh heavily in the story to show the oppression of the Russian culture. This is what drove the story and drove Vasya to fight for the things she believed in. This is what made the appearance of Morozco, and the folklore creatures so important and fascinating! Once the plot picked up for me, it had some interesting twists. I was introduced to a few more creatures, and another character from Russian folklore. It had moments of magic and intrigue, and some engaging characters. Vasya still held the lead in the story. She was brave and determined. She was caring and stubborn, and still made some dumb choices. She was engaging and fascinating though. Vasya’s siblings, Olga and Sasha, were wildly different from book 1. They had clashing beliefs compared to Vasya. They were unique in their own way, but sometimes still annoyed me with their choices. I still don’t feel like I enjoyed this one as much as the first. I enjoyed it enough to look forward to book 3 when it is released, but it just doesn’t get the rating that I gave book 1. It had really nice moments of mysticism and excitement, and had action and unpredictable plot twists, but I would have liked it to have more world and history building, and more enjoyable characters. I also realized that I couldn’t enjoy this one as much because of my lack of knowledge of the Russian folktales. That is why I was able to think a little more positively about the book when putting my confused thoughts aside (my initial rating was at a 2). Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this e-ARC in exchange for my honest review!
Having been delighted with the freshness of the first book in the series, Arden returns and presents more of that world that many of us unfamiliar with Slavic and Russian folk and fairy tales can devour and enjoy. Again, the exhaustive research and incorporation of tales combine in the writing as Vasya’s story continues and unfolds before us. As the last story ended, Vasya’s choices were narrow; marry or join a convent. As we have come to see, she takes another unoffered option and runs off disguised as a boy – heading out to make her own life. All of the wonderful moments and traits that made Vasya a solid heroine in the first book are tempered with her own experience and a bit of age: even as she is as determined as ever to follow her own heart and path. Again Arden mixes the fantastical with the plausible (and historic) moments, Vasya’s travels take her through the landscape of 14th century Russia, easily allowing readers to feel as if the landscape was haunted by spirits: some human, others supernatural, as she lands in the midst of political intrigue as the unrest threatens the Moscovian rulers, of which her cousin, Dmitri, is a part. While the overall tone is dark-ish, there are moments that shine as the atmospheric descriptions and visualizations will have you reaching for a cuddly blanket as the chill of the landscape reaches out and tugs at imagination. One of the favorite characters, beyond Vasya and her approach to tackling problems, new people and issues is the Frost demon, Morozko: so utterly complete and present in his depiction – full of the contradictions that we all have, and wholly engaging despite his reputation and power of bad. Arden has used the story of Vasya and her continued saga to present a Russia of old that is both timeless and encompassing. Best read if you are familiar with The Bear and the Nightingale, the story is paced similarly, allowing you to escape into the book and savor the moments as you wonder just how each piece fits into the overall. In this book, several moments from the earlier come clearer and inform Vasya’s decisions and choices, and while the political and societal unrest play on her choices, few are solely determined by any one event, allowing the story to feel as if it is progressing naturally – even with the fantastical moments. Sure to please fans of fairy tales and magically plausible fiction, this second installment promises wonder for the conclusion of the trilogy – and sure to be a favorite of many looking for something that is just a bit different. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I have read both of these novels and found them enchanting and hard to put down. The character development had great depth and the plot is a fantastic fairy-tale. Don't over-analyze these books, just enjoy them!
Could not put this book down! Strained my eyes reading until I could not see any more!! Cannot wait until the next book in this series comes out...
Vasya is one of those characters that I live for! Smart, spunky, and refuses to give in to traditional female roles of her time. After escaping her village, because she knows she will be targeted as a witch, Vasya can either marry or join a convent, neither of which she wants to do. So instead, she disguises herself as a boy and goes on an adventure! I really enjoyed her growth in this story. While she still gets in trouble for shirking her female duties, Vasya thinks a little more of her actions before throwing herself into a situation. What is clear is that she will do anything to save those she loves, whether she has society's approval or not. I love how the author combines the history of fourteenth century Russia and fantasy elements. Russian legends and fairytales exist alongside everyday life and the combination just works so well in this story. There is more action than in the first book, and the romance also picks up. I am really looking forward to the third book to see where all of the characters end up.
I’m so glad I waited a year to read “The Bear and the Nightingale,” because it allowed me to devour Vasya’s first two story arcs one after the other. Thank goodness I only have to wait ‘til August for the end of this trilogy. I simply love everything about this series. The second effort from Arden is just as strong as the first.
The perfect follow-up to the lovely fairytale of The Bear and the Nightingale. The Girl in the Tower possesses all the same wonder and magic from the very opening of the prologue. Where Vasya seemed so young and innocent and utterly wild in The Bear and the Nightingale, here—appropriately and refreshingly so—Vasya has refocused her vision of the world, or begins to do so, and puts on her big girl spectacles to see everything with experienced and sophisticated eyes. Vasya is the perfect heroine to guide us through this inspiring world connecting Old World Russia and the magical realm Arden has fastened onto it. Here again, there is such a beautiful and lasting quality to Arden’s writing. She strikes just the perfect note to balance all the magic, beauty, timelessness, wonder, and mystery within her books. Her characters are simply vibrating with life, and Arden is clearly skilled enough to handle all the heft she injects into her story. The Bear and the Nightingale was a cozy, mystical introduction to this world and its wondrous characters and places. There was an untamed innocence to it that drew you in. The Girl in the Tower has all that I loved from its predecessor, plus more action, suspense, adventure, and momentum. The steady hum that built throughout The Bear and the Nightingale becomes a pounding drumbeat, all leading us to what I can only imagine to be an emotional and magical finale in the next of the trilogy.
Gorgeously written and heavy with Russian fairytales and folklore, this second installment in the Winternight trilogy continues the beautiful and wintry journey of Vasilisa and her magical horse as she treks through the harsh and unforgiving Russian countryside in search of true freedom. No longer safe in Lesnaya Zemlya, Vasya chooses the only option that makes sense — flee the home and people she loves. The only other options, enter a convent or marry, are constraints and certainly not for a woman who was born to traverse the wide-open. Disguised as a young lord, Vasya’s journey is fraught with danger, and more frightening are he bandits she meets along the way who’ve taken to burning villages and kidnapping girl children. Her journey eventually leads her to Moscow where she has a chance to reunite with Olga and Sasha, although the reunion is just as tense as the journey that brought them together. Set during the medieval period of Russia, women are expected to live as commodities and objects, seen simply as breeders for a man’s children and expected to find happiness in nothing more than what a man chooses to give her. Standards were quite different back then, as any history book will point out, and virtue - especially concerning women, was as desirable as any currency. I love books and stories where women shun societal standards and conventions, and that is definitely what this series shows with Vasya. Often referred to as unmanageable and defiant, Vasya just wants to be able to live and see the world, knowing that the societal constructs forced upon women is certainly not for her. She’s definitely a woman lightyears ahead of her time, and her wandering spirit and her lust for life are such endearing qualities that add such strength to her already amazing character. While the book focuses much on Vasya and her journey, I enjoyed the interactions between Morozko and Vasya the most. The frost-demon, much like Vasya, is also wrestling with his version of “life”, or lack thereof. There’s always been a hint of something between the demon and Vasya, and while most times his motives are certainly in the category of self-interest, he may be the character that’s transforming the most. A hint of romance is blossoming between the two and while that’s certainly unfounded, it definitely adds another layer to this tale that’s already filled with depth. I’m already eagerly anticipating the third and final book in this trilogy, but more than anything, I’m looking forward to what happens between Morozko and Vasya now that they’ve reached an apex in their most unconventional relationship. Bottom line - I love this series, I love these characters, I love the cold and harsh and unforgiving world. Arden’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and her passion for Russia and its history and folklore is so palpable that it just oozes off the pages. I can’t recommend this series enough and if you haven’t yet started it, do yourself a favor and get to it. *I received a free copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley and BookishFirst for my honest opinion.
5 stars Hi Morozko, and welcome to my harem of book boyfriends. You can settle in next to Anthony Lockwood and Shiro. Make friends please. You'll be here for a while
[NOTE: I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.] This is the direct sequel to “The Bear and the Nightingale”, and resumes where the latter left off, following both Sasha and Vasya from that point onwards. I’m a little torn about this book. While still calling upon Russian folklore and legends, these didn’t play as much of a part as they did in the first book, and I was a little disappointed to see them take the backburner. (Morozko was still here, but I don’t know if it was so good for him, all things considered when it comes to the ending.) Paradoxically, this time, I also liked that the focus shifted more towards city politics, with the characters having to grapple with ‘what consequences will our actions have in the grand scheme of things’, for instance Dimitrii re: the Golden Horde. And that, I think, ties into one of the big themes of the story, a.k.a it’s well and all to want your independence, but finding ways to achieve it with minimum damage should be part of your focus as well. It followed that I liked Vasya less in this second instalment. On the one hand, I sympathised with her plea of not wanting a life where she’d be locked up in the terem most of the year, and forbidden to do what she loved (riding Solovey, for instance) because ‘it didn’t become a woman’. Because not having a choice is the lot of most people, doesn’t mean we have to always accept it meekly without fighting (I mean, if everybody did that, we’d still work 14 hours a day and send children to the factory at 12 or something, I suppose); and that she’d see her niece doomed to the same kind of fate was painful. On the other hand, more than in the first volume, Vasya’s desire to travel and not live under restraint like her sister caused even more problems, likely because of the stupid ways she often approached this, and/or completely ignored any other character’s warnings. One extremely obvious example: if you aim at passing for a boy, cut your hair first thing, don’t just hide it under a hood. I think this is one detail that kept baffling me every time Vasya’s hair was mentioned, because it was so illogical to me. Getting giddy with the feeling of freedom and making mistakes? Okay, understandable. But other problems could’ve been avoided with a little common sense. I’m interested in the third book, to see how all this will unfold, but I definitely hope Vasya will have learnt from her mistakes this time.
As I said after the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, I ham not a big fantasy reader, but i would classify this book also as folktale/mythology/history. I was looking forward to this book in the trilogy and even though I did not enjoy it as much as the first, it was still a very strong story and moved along quickly. Medieval Russian superstitions are the backbone of this trilogy, with many of the same chyerti (spirits and/or demons) in this book as the first as well as some new ones. Vasya (Vasilisa) has the sight passed down to her by her mother and grandmother before her. Unfortunately, she has been labeled a witch, so unless she wants to be sent to a convent or marry someone she doesn't love, she hops on her magical horse, Solovey, dresses up like a boy, and heads off into the world for adventure. Running into bandits who are burning villages and stealing young girls to sell as slaves, she escapes to a monastery with 3 of the girls and runs into her brother and the Crown Prince of Moscow. Her brother agrees to keep the secret of her gender so she is off to experience battle, camaraderie, and more. Once again, the winter king, Morozko, the man made of ice and snow, with his chilling pale blue eyes, comes to her aid many times. He also comes as death welcoming those who are leaving the earth. Vasya makes many decisions and choices that affect not only herself but family and others who have befriended her. Whether these decisions are the right ones or not will be revealed as you read this story. Katherine Arden has done a great job creating the time period and introducing us to the various magical creatures and the power they possess. This story is quite a bit darker with more violence than the first in the series. There is magic, family, folklore, the arising power of the church, battles, adventure, political uprisings and coups as well as bandits and the culture of the time. This was a very harsh and uncertain time for those in power as well as the individual lords and their villagers. The weather, especially the descriptions of the winter, make you feel what those living there are going through. There are pieces in the story that give us more information about the family that explain more about Vasya's gift. The ending is a surprise and leaves you wanting more. I am looking forward to the last book in this trilogy. The author's notes at the back give information about the folklore, the characters and her desire to stay true to the history of this period. I recommend this book to anyone as there is something for any book lover. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
There are just some books that you tell yourself to read slowly and make them last. This was one of the books. I loved The Bear and the Nightingale so much, that I knew I had to make this one last and I had ever intention to. Then suddenly, I was on the last page, my heart tearing in two because not only was this just as amazing as the first book, but now I have to wait until the third. The story was fantastic and I loved learning more about the characters I had already grown to love, as well as meeting new ones. The writing itself was so lyrical and beautiful, that I'm honestly not that surprised I finished this so quickly.
I have to say that I am loving this trilogy more than I ever expected to. It is completely different from anything else I read and I have trouble “letting go” of the books after I’ve read them. I’ve ended each book feeling like it is a 4.5 star book, but then as it settles within my brain and I keep thinking about it for days and weeks after finishing they inevitable turn into 5 star books. I think what I loved the most about this book is that I NEVER knew what was going to happen next. Everything that happened was unexpected, and even when I tried to guess I ended up wrong. Most of the books I read are formulaic (some extremely so) and it’s refreshing to have a book where I have absolutely no clue what is going to happen at any time. No clue. At. All. Katherine Arden has serious storytelling skills. Both books started off slow for me, but once I let myself become immersed in them then they were excellent. It’s hard to write a review when I want to start each sentence with “The thing I loved most was…”. Everything is my favorite thing about The Girl in the Tower, but especially the atmosphere that Arden developed in The Bear and the Nightingale and then continued/evolved/changed as book two progressed. That atmosphere shines through on the covers and they completely represent the books. Cover Love is real with these books. I absolutely loved the covers for The Bear and the Nightingale and was trying to decide if I preferred the American or UK cover better. I ended up with an American hardcover, and it is even more gorgeous than I expected. I imagine the UK cover is the same way, so I believe that this is one series that I will be buying in duplicate. Seriously. I never do that, but these covers are that good. I received an advance reader copy of this book that I have chosen to review.
Exciting to read. Characters well developed and story line tight and well developed . Folklore references ring true.
It is a year since I read “The Bear and the Nightingale”, and initially, the “Girl in the Tower” passed slowly as I had to bring back to mind the action and characters of the first book. As with many Russian flavoured books, all the characters have several names – and it takes a little time to get used to that again. But once I got things straight in my head, the plot sped apace, as did my reading speed and enjoyment, and I read the second half of the book in a single sitting. It is still winter, and still very cold. Vasya has escaped from her home, leaving behind her dead, the conflicted priest, Konstantin, and the villagers that he has turned against her by branding Vasya a witch (Witch. … We call such women so, because we have no other name”). She rides the immortal steed, Solovey, and seeks out the Frost King, Morozko. Vasya is not a witch – or at least doesn’t think she is – but she can see the Chyerti spirits, whose existence most others refuse now to acknowledge. But most of all, Vasya is escaping the stultifying future that society has decreed for her – and all other women of this age and country: “A woman married. Or she became a nun. Or she died. That was what being a woman meant”. To have some semblance of freedom and a life worth living, Vasya takes on a new identity as a young lad, and as such comes to the notice of the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitrii Ivanovich. Her brother, Sasha, at the Grand Prince’s side, is forced to go along with her deception against his ‘better’ judgement: “her brother had loved the child Vasilisa. But how can one love a woman who is too much like that child, still brash, still unafraid?” When they all reach Moscow, Vasya’s sister, Olga, is dragged into the conspiracy. Olga has the life that she dreamed of – as a lady of consequence with husband, children, staff and slaves – but also with many constrictions. She can only envisage a similar existence for Vasya, even knowing that her sister is completely unsuited to such a life: “Vasya barely heard. The walls of the chapel were stifling her, as though Olga’s long, airless years had a shape and a flavor that she could breathe … This was the face of her most dreadful dream: herself, imprisoned behind walls until she grew to accept them, her soul withered away”. As a boy, Vasya becomes lauded as a hero, and gains in confidence – but the truth of her identity always threatens to ‘un-man’ her – and to destroy the lives of her siblings and their families. There are some wonderful characters in this book. Of course, Vasya, whom you immediately take to heart. Solovey is much more than a (immortal) horse. He understands human speech, and is probably Vasya’s best friend, confidant and protector. His mood is communicated through his very mobile ears. Apart from Vasya, his greatest love is food – especially porridge. Morozko, as a portent of death and the Frost King, should invoke fear and dislike – but his care for Vasya humanises him, and he comes across as a very sympathetic, and misunderstood, being. Like all the Chyeyrti, he is doomed to fade with the onslaught of Christianity, but you feel the world will be poorer without him in it. This is a wonderful sequel, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy and fairy-tales. I look forward to part three of this excellent trilogy. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Absolutely breathtaking! I really liked The Bear and the Nightingale, but I loved The Girl in the Tower so much more! The Girl in the Tower is fast-paced and riveting. Vasya has grown so much throughout the story and has come to understand herself and the world better - and yet, she is still only human, and her actions sometimes come with heartbreaking consequences. I loved the perspectives of Sasha and Olga in this book, their struggle to understand Vasya and the events back home that they missed, and the limitations of their lives that conflict with their desire to protect their younger sister. Arden's writing is captivating and magical. Once again, the wintry atmosphere is so perfectly described. It almost gives me a chill every time Morozko makes an appearance (and I love every single moment that he appears in this book). I can't wait for the final book in this trilogy!
Katherine Arden's The Girl In The Tower is just as good, if not better, than the first book, The Bear and The Nightingale. Filled with more Russian Fairy tales, atmospheric literary prose, rich and strong characters, and the same enchanting setting of Medieval Russia, this book picks up right where the first one left off. It follows the story of Vasya, now a grown up woman she, instead of conforming to the role woman in her day usually play, of marriage or life in a convent, chooses instead a life of adventure. Leaving her home and traveling the vast Russian Wilderness while dressed as a boy, she soon is called upon defend the city of Moscow and finds the threat greater and more deadly than she imagined. While fighting this threat, only she can stop, she is also forced to protect her secret as she comes upon her brother and attracts the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Part of what drew me to this book is the fairy tales, yes, but also the historical setting of Medieval Russia. Katherine Arden does a masterful job of weaving fantasy elements with real life historical details only a great historian would discover. Blurring the line between history, fantasy, and reality this book and, more importantly this series, is contemporary historical fantasy at its best. It is a sketch not only of real life in Medieval Russia, but also displays the power of story and demonstrates the importance of fairy tales and the lessons they can teach us.
Vasya is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She has few options, at least none that she’d want. She decides to flee, instead of settling for marriage or becoming a nun, and finds herself at the door of the frost demon’s home. Morozco, the frost demon, is one of my favorite parts of this series. Can you fall for a frost demon? All I know is I sure have. He is limited by his role and his immortality and even magic itself but something about Vasya stirs feelings in him and I loved how he wrestles with this. This book marks a new aspect to Vasya’s relationship to him. Whereas they danced around a possible romance in The Bear And The Nightingale, here they start to explore it. But what hope of a future can a girl and a frost demon have together? Once winter ends, he’ll go away until it returns. And anyway, Vasya wants adventure and freedom. No matter her confused feelings about Morozco, she sees marriage as something that will chain her down. Understandably so. This second book makes it even more clear how limited the options are for girls and women, especially in Moscow. There’s no hiding from the sexism and misogyny that permeates the culture and whereas most people say, “this is just the way it is,” Vasya refuses to accept it. She wants to travel and explore and to have a future of her own determination. She takes more and more ownership of her life and in the process, she gains a better understanding of who she is and what her gifts are. Morozco advises her to disguise herself as a boy while traveling so she’ll stay safe and this leads to the kind of adventures and battles she’d never even imagined. She is ultimately reunited with her brother and sister, who are scandalized by her disguise even if they admire what she was able to accomplish. But she’s still expected to toe the line, no matter the troubles surrounding the Grand Prince of Moscow or how she can help. This was so frustrating to see! I wanted Vasya to get the recognition and admiration she deserved, not in spite of being a girl but because of it. I really enjoyed The Bear And The Nightingale but Girl In The Tower exceeded my hopes for where Arden would take her story. Vasya and Morozco are such compelling characters in and of themselves. Neither can be fully contained, albeit for different reasons, and Vasya’s burgeoning awareness of her strengths and abilities was marvelous. I loved how they were connected to one another, how they didn’t fully understand how they should relate to each other and whether there could or should be something more. Nothing is really as it seems in this world and that adds another layer of intrigue to the whole story. Plus, I continue to love how Russian fairy tales and folklore are woven in. Arden again explores the divide between good and evil, the power of love, and the importance of women having ownership in their lives and futures. The feminism permeating the pages was so empowering. The character growth was incredible and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens to Vasya and Morozco next. Disclosure: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Fair warning: this is the second book in the Winternight trilogy. There’s definitely going to be spoilers ahead for the first book in the series, The Bear and the Nightingale. If you want, you can read my review of that book here. ____________________________________________________________________ Vasya has been driven from her village after the deaths of her father and stepmother. The options are slim for a young woman in medieval Russia — convent or marriage. Vasya, ever seeking to be her own master, decides to create a third option: to wander the vast expanses of Rus’ disguised as a boy, and explore the wide world now open to her. But the road and the places upon it are dangerous. Unnatural and vicious bandits are plundering remote towns in northern Rus’, and political intrigue and betrayal surround the residents of Moscow. Pulled into the events of the larger world, Vasya finds herself walking on a knife’s edge to help her family and her country, and to safeguard her precious freedom. I simply adore this series. The Bear and the Nightingale was one of those delightful little surprises you come across occasionally. Expecting a typical historical fantasy, I found myself enveloped in a fairy tale story richly woven through with historical detail and living, breathing characters. The Girl in the Tower stays true to form. Arden’s careful attention to detail, and phenomenal gift for bringing fully-fleshed characters to her tales are undiminished in the second book. Vasya has become a bit older and harder than last we saw her, but still retains her close ties with the many spirits who inhabit her world. Her choices and their consequences are rarely easy, and we get to see her grow and change as the plot moves along. Her relationship with Morozko, the winter demon is well done. No sappy love story here, but a subtler, bittersweet rapport that feels much more real. If you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, then you’ll most likely love the continuation to the story. Fans of fantasy, fairy tales, and magic should definitely check out this phenomenal and original series. An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for the opportunity to read and review The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden! This sequel to Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderful fantasy with beautiful descriptions and fascinating legendary characters of Russian heritage. Vasya is still uniquely interesting and after surviving different adventures, she meets her niece, Marya. The two of them have a great deal in common and Vasya finally has someone she can share her magical sights with, until they are forbidden to spend time together because of the impropriety of Marya showing her face in public. She truly is a girl locked in a tower. Their lives scatter out of control when a secret Vasya has kept quiet is revealed and everything spirals downward from there. I enjoyed this sequel as much as the first book and even more. The ending left me wanting more and I sure hope there’s a third book planned. I noticed on Goodreads that the next addition to the Winternight Trilogy is set to be published August 2018 and is entitled The Winter of the Witch! The Russian information and resources in the Author’s Notes helped with the understanding of legends, vocabulary and names. I am also interested in researching more of this section of Russian history, thanks to the sources mentioned. This beautiful story rates 5 stars for its atmospheric descriptions and dynamic characters! *I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary review consideration.
The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite 2017 reads so I was slightly nervous about reading The Girl in the Tower. A few pages after I started, I knew that I had absolutely nothing to fear - this one is just as good, albeit in a different way. Katherine Arden’s writing is absolutely exquisite, her world-building is incredible, and her characters are some of the most realistic I’ve read. This book begins shortly after the events at the end of The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya has been cast out from her village, shunned by those she loved. Rather than accept her fate of joining a convent or marrying, Vasya decides to create her own path and, dressed as a boy, sets off for adventure. After finding herself drawn into the Prince of Moscow's inner circle, Vasya discovers a mysterious conspiracy that threatens the kingdom and everyone she holds dear. I loved how easily I was able to slip back into the world and the story. Even as Arden began to weave this new story, she included enough details that I was able to easily recall the events from the first book. As before, the world-building was intricate, detailed, and captivating. The historical fiction aspects were beautifully intertwined with the fantasy aspects. It was almost possible to believe that I could catch a glimpse of a domovoi or other spirit if I looked hard enough. I also loved that Arden doesn't shy away from some of the more brutal aspects of history, particularly in regard to women and women's rights. Some of those scenes were heartbreaking and emotionally difficult to read but these are stories that need to be told. Throughout the events of The Girl in the Tower, Vasya grows from a girl uncertain of her place in the world to a woman who forges her own path. She is selfless, brave, and headstrong. And she makes mistakes. Arden's strength lies in creating characters who feel realistic, who are imperfectly perfect. Even her secondary characters jumped off the page. In the first book, I wanted more backstory on Morozoko and this book absolutely delivers on that. I never thought that a frost demon could steal my heart but I was proven 100% wrong. The Girl in the Tower was an exquisitely written, beautifully atmospheric novel that I couldn't put down. Arden deftly avoids the sophomore slump, creating a story that is just as enchanting as the first. If you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, you'll adore this one. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
As with the first one, while it took me a minute to get into the story, once I got into it a little bit, I was sucked in and had trouble putting it down. The characters were very well written, and I loved all the Russian folklore and history. The scenes were all written very vividly, in such a way that you felt you were there. My only issues were kind of the same that I'd had with the first book in the series. The fact that there would be more than one name for the same person, and sometimes that was confusing as to who was being talked to. Or who was doing the talking. And then, there was a character that said his house name or his name or something was ironic, but even after googling the name, I could not find what reason made it that - Bashnya Kostei? If you can figure it out, I'd love to know. Anyway, I'll definitely be interested to see what the final book includes.
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a fascinating book alive with history, folk and fairy tales. I have to admit I am reading these out of order, despite having book one. I was pulled into the book so strongly that I had to read this first. The author had to have done an incredible amount of research to get the details so precise. Written to have taken place in the generation following Genghis Khan it clearly demonstrates life of Russian ladies in Moscow.
This book focuses on the interaction of three siblings, their cousin the ruler of Moscow, the Church and the creatures of golf and fairy tales. The story takes place in a time when magic and the creatures of folk. Tales are diminishing. Those who still believe are seen as, at best, backwards country folk or, at worse, evil destined for Hell. The siblings each portray a major force from that time. The brother is a monk standing for the Church. The older sister, the new ways and traditions. The younger sister, is the old ways.
The writing is a lyrical flow of words. As you read you find yourself expecting to see the various house elves in your home. I can not express how much I loved this book. Even now days after finishing bit of the story pop into my mind. I would recommend this book to all readers.
I chose to review an ARC I won from bookishfirst.
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