The Girl In The Tower
By Katherine Arden
Vasya faces two choices: get married or go to a convent but despite not knowing herself she knows neither of these options are for her.
Who is Vasya Petrovna?Murderer? Witch? Saviour?
Vasya's journey takes her far from her home village right to the gates of The Kremlin. Along the way she encounters Bandits, demons and a dangerous foe who threatens her, her family and even the Grand Prince himself.
The Girl In The Tower is the enchanting sequel to Katherine Arden’s wonderful book The Bear And The Nightingale.
Despite having this book on my kindle for several months now I deliberately decided to wait to read it until it was colder outside as I knew this would be a perfect winter read and I wasn’t wrong.
Vasilisa is probably one of my favourite characters from any book I have read, she is certainly the most interesting.
The book begins with Vasya riding her horse through an unnamed forest in search of a hidden house.
Meanwhile, in Moscow Olga is stood at the window of the tower she lives in waiting for her brother Aleksandr to return from his travels. Whilst she is waiting her one of her servants begins to talk of a ghost of a woman who haunts the tower.
The ghost is described as being
white as a bone…mouth fallen in, eyes dark pits to swallow the world.
The other servants listen intently to her as does Olga’s eldest child Marya.
When the servant has finished Marya begs Olga to tell a tale of her own so Olga tells the story of a child fashioned out of snow and brought to life for a couple who longer for a child of their own. I loved this story because of the magical element to it and also because its not what you would expect.
When Aleksandr or ‘Sasha’ returns he brings with him tells of an organised group of bandits, burnt-out villages and girls stolen for slavery. Sasha brings these tales to his cousin Dmitri, the Grand Prince of Moscow. The two decide to go in search of the bandits after a great lord named Kasyan visits asking for help after bandits attacked his territory and stole some young girls then disappeared seemingly without a trace.
As boys these two had live together at Sasha’s monastery, the Trinity Lavra, before Dmitri reached his majority.
When Sasha returned from his journey he brings a monk he found lost in the forest. The monk brings Olga news of her father’s death and that it was her sister’s fault he died. He also tells Olga that he thinks Vasya must be dead too but that it was for the best as she was a witch. Olga is troubled by the news but decides not to pass this news on to Sasha before his departure.
The group hunting for the bandits can find no sign of them but they do come across a burnt-out village and some agitated villagers whose daughters are missing.
“Bodies lay strewn as they had died, black as the burnt houses, with pleading finger-bones and grinning skulls.”
The prince and his companions end up seeking shelter with some monks and are startled to see a lone rider carrying some young girls heading for the monastery. Sasha is further startled later when he realises the rider is his sister Vasya.
Both know that he cannot reveal her true identity so together they decide to introduce her as his brother. Under this identity she quickly finds favour with Dmitri by helping track down the bandits.
Once we learn the identity of the rider we also learn how Vasya came to be there.
The house Vasya was looking for in the beginning of the book was that of the frost-demon Morozko. He questions why she has ridden out into the dangerous woods once again and why in particular she came searching for him. Vasya tells him that she cannot stay at home as he siblings are mad with her and her neighbours believe her to be a witch. She fears being burnt as a witch or being sent to a convent.
She then goes on to explain why she has come to him, that she has decided to travel and that she needs the dowry he once offered her. He is startled that she has come to him for this and tells her so.
“No, she might have said. It is not that. Not entirely, I was afraid when I left home, and I wanted you. You know more than I, and you have been kind to me. But she could not bring herself to say it.”
He is reluctant to agree to her request and says she should return home and the people of her village will soon forget. He also warns her of the dangers of the road including the possibility that she might be raped. Vasya is undeterred though.
“There among your own kind, that is the world for you. I left you safely bestowed with your brother, the Bear asleep, the priest fled into the forest. Could you not have been satisfied with that?’ His question was almost plaintive.”
I love the relationship between Vasya and Morozko and the way it develops throughout the book. The reader gets to learn more about Morozko’s interest in her but is still left wanting at the end.
This book also marks a change in the way Vasya views him. She is still sceptical of his intentions towards her and questions the motives behind his kindness but at the same time she cannot help but depend on him.
She feels like he is the only one who understands her especially when he gives her some saddlebags filled with all the things she needs to survive on her own.
“Vasya stared down at these things with a delight she had never felt for the gold or gems of her dowry. These things were freedom…they belonged to someone else, someone more capable and strange.”
During the course of the book, we get to see Vasya’s character develop as she begins to get a sense of who she is outside of the confines of other people’s expectations.
We also begin to get a sense of why Morozko keeps coming to Vasya’s rescue.
“I am not blind continued the mare. Even to things that go on two feet. You made the jewel so that you would not fade. But now it is doing too much. It is making you alive. It is making you want what you cannot have, and feel what you ought not to understand, and you are beguiled and afraid. Better to leave her to her fate, but you cannot…Let her go, then, said the mare, quietly. Let her find her own fate. You cannot love and be immortal. Do not let it come to that. You are not a man.”
If you love myths and fairy tales then Katherine Arden is definitely an author you want to check out. I loved The Bear and the Nightingale, but I loved this even more. The Bear and the Nightingale was my favourite book of last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if The Girl In The Tower ends up being my favourite book of this year.
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