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The Girl in the Tower

January 20, 2019

When he handed me a copy of Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower, book two of “The Winternight Trilogy,” following on from The Bear and the Nightingale, Walker—who had pre-read it for my enjoyment—said that it was a pretty good story up until the last part, and then it got great. And I agree. So many things come together at the end of this book that it’s a positive conflagration of surprise and delight, although it does not end altogether happily. It does end, however, even though there’s a third book in the series.

In her review at Rhapsody in Books, Jill says:
“Morozko, the Russian winter demon who was seen as sometimes a force of good and sometimes of evil, in this book becomes an increasingly sympathetic character; in many ways, he is the best character of the second book. The only mystery is what draws him so much to Vasya. She, like many teen heroines it seems, is annoyingly bratty, stubborn, and disagreeable even though she is spirited, brave, and more devoted to justice for the people in her country than its rulers.”
But because the story is set in medieval Russia, I didn’t really think of Vasya as a “teen heroine.” She left any vestige of childhood behind at the end of the first book, and she is now making her way in the world on her own terms, as an adult. She has no safety net, with the possible exception of Morozko, and how reassuring is it to have a personification of Death as the only one you can turn to for help? Especially since one of the first things he says to her in this book is “you are talking like a child. Do you think that anyone, in all this world of yours, cares what you want? Even princes do not have what they want, and neither do maidens.”

We hear news of Vasya’s brother Sasha and her sister Olga, both living in Moscow under the protection of the Grand Prince Dimitrii, whose “father had died before Dimitrii reached his tenth year, in a land where boy-princes rarely saw adulthood. Dmitrii had learned early to judge men carefully and not to trust them.” When he meets Vasya and is introduced by Sasha as his heroic brother who has rescued three little girls from outlaws in the forest, Dmitrii doesn’t suspect that Vasya is anything other than what she seems, a young warrior with a magnificent horse, Solovey, or the nightingale.

Morozko, in addition to keeping Vasya from dying, offers her bits of fairy-tale wisdom like “things made by effort are more real than things made by wishing” and “men are both vicious and unaccountable.” But he is not an all-powerful figure in the background. He complains to his horse that “every time I go near her, the bond tightens. What immortal ever knew what it was like to number his days? Yet I can feel the hours passing when she is near.”

Vasya’s brother and sister demand at several points that she tell them “the truth,” but the truth is so unbelievable that she knows there is no point in trying to tell it: “Vasya swallowed, licked her lips and thought, I was saved from my dead nurse by a frost-demon, who gave me my horse and kissed me in the firelight. Can I say that?”

Arden’s descriptions of medieval Moscow work almost like part of the plot:
“The gates of Moscow were made of iron-bound oak, soaring to five times her height and guarded above and below. More wondrous still were the walls themselves. In that land of forests, Dimitrii had poured out his father’s gold, his people’s blood, to build Moscow’s walls of stone. Scorch marks about the base gave credit to his foresight.”

The last part of the story begins with a boyar named Kasyan who seems to serve Dimitrii and challenges Vasya to what initially seems to be a friendly horse-race. Knowing that no mortal horse can defeat Solovey, she accepts, but then Kasyan’s horse turns out to be more-than-mortal and Kasyan himself a sorcerer who, Morozko tells her “has hidden his life outside his body, so that I—that death—may never go near him.”

Vasya unwinds the mysteries, unleashes a firebird, and saves most of Moscow by making Morozko care enough to make snow fall. It was a lovely ending, full of fire and ice, to read by a fire on an icy winter night in Ohio.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2019 4:19 pm

    I did finish the third book, though haven’t posted my review yet, and I thought it had a very good ending. In fact, I may have liked the third book better than the first two, a rarity for me where trilogies are concerned!

    • January 20, 2019 4:25 pm

      That’s good news! I started reading the third book last night.

  2. January 30, 2019 7:26 pm

    I like that Walker pre-read it for your enjoyment! 🙂

    • January 30, 2019 9:17 pm

      I liked that too. Especially because I got the first one for him when he graduated from college.


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