“Witch. We call such women so, because we have no other name.”
Dressed as a boy Vasya is on the road, traveling away from home where her dead father lies buried, his death her fault. When she encounters a village burned down by bandits, she decides to help, but in her attempt she gets stuck in a web of lies as she tries to hide the fact that she’s a girl from the Grand Prince of Moscow and the rest of the court. All the while other strange things are happening and time is running out..
This is the second instalment of the Winternight trilogy, and this book and this review will contain spoilers for the first book The Bear and the Nightingale (and you can read my review of that one here)
Let it be known that I really, really loved and admired The Bear and the Nightingale, and the second book was just as amazing. I absolutely love Arden’s writing. The way she writes and the way she lets her characters speak give the sense that it’s translated from another language, as the sentence structures and word choices are ever so slightly more formal and more archaic, than every day modern English and it really adds to the story magic. But more than that the writing is also amazing in the way it depicts the places and the story, as it creates this atmosphere of deep, dark forests, the claustrophobic cities and the long, cold road. Every sentence is interesting and there’s not a word too much, nothing that broke the suspense of disbelief. Absolutely amazing. It’s not often that I read a book of which just the writing itself is a pleasure to read, but Arden just does that.
Something I also really admire and enjoy about The Girl in the Tower (and the previous book, too) is the morally grey characters. How these characters are both good and bad, how some mean well in their own way but their methods just make things worse, or are very hurtful. How they make mistakes and let their own ideas and egos block out the truth (and common sense). How they’re so incredibly human. Even the one character who has thoroughly bad intentions isn’t just a black and white evil villain. There are layers upon layers upon layers in all of these characters. Because of this the book is also pretty stressful to read (for me at least) because you can never predict what a character will do, there’s never a sense of “it will be all right” because perhaps it won’t! It really keeps you on your toes in a way that I don’t often see books do. I rarely see such perfectly written, interesting and complex characters and I felt so completely invested in them and their stories.
This book is so, so difficult to summarize and I did a bad job of it above, but it’s the best I can do without spoiling anything. The story is pretty complex without getting confusing, but there are so many details and several smaller plot lines and so much of the story relies heavily on atmosphere and detail, that it’s difficult to capture it in just one paragraph. Honestly I haven’t read a blurb of this book yet that actually manages it.
The Girl in the Tower is definitely more action-y than the first book. The first book was much more introduction to the world and Vasya’s powers, and took a long time to get going (which I love, personally, but not everyone might). But this book starts with more action. It again uses one traditional tale as the background for the story, but it’s not just a retelling, it’s just part of this world. Folklore is really woven into the fabric of the story and I love that, but the novels are also historical fiction, in that they really depict medieval Russian life. Arden manages that balance just perfectly, that switching to and fro. The plot itself I also loved, and I could never guess what was going to happen and was constantly surprised in a really good way.
The Girl in the Tower is a more than worthy continuation of the Winternight trilogy. These books are pure works of art and I’m really looking forward to reading the third one.
Content Warners for this book: violence (sometimes a little gory), unwanted sexual intimacies (but no rape), mentions of rape but no descriptions