The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden

girlintheThe Girl in the Tower is the second book in the Winternight series by Katherine Arden.  Last year I was spellbound when I saw the cover to the Bear and the Nightingale and read the synopsis.  I had to have that book in my life.  I don’t know, perhaps I was mesmerised, but after reading it the book proved to be even better than my expectations.  I loved The Bear and the Nightingale.  Imagine how happy I was when I found out that it was the first in a trilogy.  I have since been like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting to read The Girl in the Tower.

Firstly, the cover again held me in it’s thrall, I was trapped in the headlights and unable to move, but I did have a nagging doubt.  I loved book one, how could this possibly compete?  Fear not, like Vasilisa (Vasya), there is more to Ms Arden than meets the eye.  She’s clearly some sort of story sprite, which would explain why she writes of such creatures with deceptively easy charm.  She has written a second book that is not only delightfully enchanting, brimming with atmosphere and evocative in it’s descriptions but she has superseded the first book.  How is it possible?  Well, for my mind this is an author who knows her topic, her knowledge is apparent in her writing but more than that her love for what she writes shines through.

I realise I’m gushing but I literally can’t help it.  With this series I have that feeling of coming home.  The feeling you get when a book is so good that it talks to you and makes you feel as though the author not only knows you inside and out but has written this book with you in mind.  Silly, I know, but there it is.  Pick up this series and prepare to fall in love with the characters, the place and the folklore.

The story picks up virtually where book one left off.  (Side note – be wary of spoilers in this review if you haven’t yet read the first book – and by the way, if that’s the case – why not?  Get thee to a book shop and pick up The Bear and the Nightingale, read it, then come back and talk to me.  Please).  So, Vasya has ran away from her childhood village, the villagers believe she is a witch and with her father dead she no longer enjoys his protection from their superstitious anger.  Retreating to the forest in the bitter cold isn’t the easiest route, neither is deciding to try and see something of the world as a single young female in a time when women’s’ expectations were marry and have a family or go to a convent.  Neither of these options appeal, or indeed suit Vasya.  It isn’t a judgement call, everyone is different and Vasya wants something more.  She’s a woman who was born in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She’s a restless spirit and stubborn to boot.  So, with safety and anonymity in mind, Vasya dresses as a boy.  Now, there’s much more to the story than Vasya surviving in the wild.  The bigger story begins with the plundering and destruction of many of the outlying rural villages and the abduction of children.  This comes to the attention of the Grand Prince who eventually rides out to try and tackle the bandits head on.  Vasya becomes embroiled in this thread which eventually sees her return to Moscow as a hero.  She’s still masquerading as a boy – but how long can her luck hold out?  She has now gained the attention of more than the Winter King and she walks on a tightrope of deception that threatens daily to give way beneath her.

What I loved about this book.  Everything basically.  The characters, the sense of anticipation that turns to that terrible choking feeling of dread, the cold of the forest, the whimsy and fairytale aspects, the darkness, the politics of city life and in particular being at the whim of a Grand Prince, the mysterious Frost Demon, the descriptions of the way of life and the Domovoi and Bannik’s that act as guardians of the homes and baths. Just everything.

To the characters.  Vasya is an amazing character to read about.  She’s stubborn and headstrong.  She doesn’t always make the best decisions.  She won’t ask for help.  But, she’s loving, she loves her family, she’s brave and curious and has a determination streak a mile wide.  I loved her story in this book.  The dressing as a boy and the sense of freedom she enjoyed.  It’s captivating to read about – especially her time in the forest.

Then we have Vasya’s stallion Solovey.  I defy you not to love this horse.  Just try.  Or don’t – because it’s not possible so why waste time and effort.

We have a return to the story of two of Vasya’s siblings – Olga, her sister and now Princess with her own children and Sasha, her doting brother who left to become a monk.  Vasya finds that she has a niece who is very similar, not only in temperament but in the way she ‘sees’ spirits and this also plays a role as the story unfolds.

Konstantin also makes a return to the story.  He’s still obsessive in terms of both Vasya and his religion and neither help to make him into either a stable or likable character.

And, of course we have Morozko.  Still an enigma, although we learn a little more of him in this instalment.  Wow, what can I say.  I’m a little bit in love which I realise is ridiculous.  But I am.  Don’t judge me – just read the book and you’ll be a little bit in love too I think.  There is an underlying love theme going on here – but it’s very subtle and has the feeling of dabbling with unknown quantities that are dangerous and exciting at the same time.

The pace is much faster in this story than in the first, there’s more action and heart stopping drama, there are ghosts and other entities and this definitely tends towards a slightly darker streak than the first book.

Did I have any criticisms?  No.  I guess on balance I preferred Vasya’s time in the forest to her time in Moscow but I think that’s simply because even though she was more often than not cold, hungry or even a little scared it had such a feeling of wild abandon.  Things might not be going perfectly but they were Vasya’s choices.  As soon as she returns to the City you immediately feel the noose begin to tighten around her.

Overall: great characters, plenty of myth and folklore, fantasy and history coming together in perfect harmony, love, betrayal, deception, beautiful writing and a story that will hold you riveted to the page.

What more can I say.

Read it.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.