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Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Favorite Quote: “Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.”

When I finished The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden last fall, I wasn’t sure I would continue on with the series. Not because I didn’t like the book—I really did, in fact, like it a lot, despite first assuming that it would be just another fairy-tale retelling. I enjoyed being immersed in a new mythology I didn’t know much about—Russian fairy tales—and Vasya, who loves wandering the woods, is a girl after my own heart. But because the story wrapped up well, I wasn’t left hanging, wondering what would happen next. Plus, sometimes the amount of trilogies and series gets a little bit overwhelming to me (so many books, so little time!).

But a couple of weeks ago I noticed that The Winter of the Witch, which is the last book in the trilogy, had recently been ordered at the library, and there was, conveniently, a copy of The Girl in the Tower (the second book) on the shelf. As I had just finished the book I’d been reading, I decided to see if I would slip back into the world of Vasya, Morozko, and medieval Russia.

And I did.

The story starts with Olga, who is Vasya’s sister. In the first book, she married a prince and moved to Moscow, and in the beginning of this book we learn more about her and her daughter. We also catch up with Sasha, Vasya’s brother who became a monk and is a confidant of the Grand Prince. It takes a while for Vasya to enter the story, but when she does it is in the time frame of her leaving her small village because the villagers think she is a witch.

Girl in the towerlI always find it hard to write about books in a series because I don’t want to spoil the earlier books. So, in brief, in The Girl in the Tower tells the story of what happens when Vasya, who dresses as a boy for safety, leaves Lesnaya Zemlya, her adventures on the road, and her experiences in Moscow. You definitely need to read the first book before reading this one.

One thing I loved, and that I hope continues with the next book, is the theme of female ancestors and how they influence us, sometimes without us even realizing it. In a similar vein, Vasya’s relationship with her sister Olga and Olga’s daughter Marya resonated with me. I also loved that Vasya makes lots of really stupid decisions, which sounds like a weird thing to love, but for me it rings true. Main characters who are wise beyond their years, especially adolescent main characters, always feel false to me. Vasya makes mistakes and she injures relationships; she make faulty assumptions and doesn’t think deeply enough about the things she experiences. These decisions will influence not just her future, but her family’s as well, and while sometimes it is frustrating to go along with her, I appreciate that she is allowed to be authentic.

Finally, I enjoyed the feminist flavor of the story. A girl dressing as a boy forces many characters to consider what it means to be a girl (or a boy) and how gender influences our identity. It is a subtle thread in the story but I enjoyed watching it progress.

When I finished The Girl in the Tower, I had already picked up the sequel. So I’m diving into it next. I’m really glad I continued on with this series.

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