Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Book Reviews copy

The Girl in the Tower 1

Synopsis: For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

Author: Katherine Arden

Title: The Girl in the Tower

Publisher: Ebury Publishing

Date: 2018

The Girl in the Tower 2

The first thing to note about The Girl in the Tower is it is the second in series. I was not aware of this fact when I first started to read it. While that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book (I loved it!), it meant I didn’t know the characters back stories and was confused at moments when they clearly reference the first book. Read the first book first!

That, however, was my mistake and thankfully did not detract from my enjoyment of this one.

Vasya has run away from home with her magic-horse who can understand man’s speech. She is determined to see the world, even if the winter-king and frost-demon, Morozko, tries to persuade her otherwise. But danger is strife and Vasya soon enters a world of deception and politics, where being revealed as a girl could cost her not only her life, but her brother’s, Sasha, also.

“If you want something, it means you do not have it, it means that you do not believe it is there, which means it will never be there. The fire is or it is not. That which you call magic is simply not allowing the world to be other than as you will it.”

I loved Vasya as a character: she has depth but isn’t infallible. She has a gift of sorts, but she is a young woman determined not to be caged by either a covent or a husband. She is determined to do what it is right to protect people – first, the missing girls, then her own family – even if it costs her everything.

Sasha, however, claimed the spot in my heart for favourite character. A warrior-monk, he risks everything on a lie to protect his little sister and despite his Godly nature, no bandit is going to escape him. The reader gets to know Sasha first, so I think missing the first book is why I connected initially to his character.

The Girl in the Tower is, mainly, a book about family. Vasya will risk everything to protect her siblings. Sasha lies to protect his sister. And Olga – another sister – forgives and welcomes Vasya into her home despite mistrusting her. The bond between siblings is powerful and is a message that, despite magic and rumours and dangerous priests, nothing is stronger than family.

The Girl in the Tower 3

The pacing is varied throughout. I found the beginning to be relatively slow – there felt like there was a lot of manoeuvring the characters before the main story unfolds. I felt it dragged despite not knowing the characters – I imagine if you had read the first book, this would have been frustrating. The second half, however, is much faster, with the tension mounting and the stakes being raised with every chapter.

I wouldn’t say there was anything that particularly caught me by surprise, but there are a few twists along the way that kept me engaged and interested. The one thing that threw me off slightly, however, was all of the Russian names and nicknames – I couldn’t pronounce some and it made it harder to keep track of people to start with. I found you get used to it as the tension builds, however. At least, you stop noticing!

A thoroughly enjoyable book, full of magic and adventure. I’d recommend it – but read the first one first!

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