Like many readers, I thought THE GIRL IN THE TOWER much better than the THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE
As you can see from my review of THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE, I was exceedingly puzzled by that book, especially by the ending. How can Vasya, who is supposed to be so important that her mother died bringing her into the world, do anything if she is hidden away in a dark & remote forest?
This volume answers that question. Because Vasya only spends one night in the forest with Winter Demon Morozko before setting off on her wonderful stallion Solovey “to see the world.” Naturally events intervene. As a character, Vasya is wonderfully exasperating, being a well-meaning, kind soul who nevertheless attracts trouble as honey entices a bee. Poor Vasya is now 16 years old, a perfect age for marriage in Medieval Russia, and so she has to dodge the advances of more than one male personage who tries to trap her into marriage. (We know that this volume takes place in 1381, because that is when the Tatars burned Moscow.) Due to the mores of the time, Vasya would be in total thrall to her husband. To avoid this fate and guard her freedom, she is obliged to pose as a boy by the name of Vasyli Petrovich (rather than Vasilisa Petrovna.)
Oh dear, what a lot of trouble she gets into as a result of this very understandable lie. When people find out that she is no boy but a young woman of 16, they are thunderstruck, and not in a good way. How could a girl possibly ride a stallion? How could she possibly fight like a man? And how could she be so immodest as to dress as a boy?
Vasya’s head would be on the chopping block, were it not for the attentions of Winter Demon Morozko. As I said above, she spent one night with him in the forest, and to twenty-first-century ears that has a very suggestive ring. However, author Katherine Arden gives us the strong impression that “nothing happened” partly because Vasya is so young & vibrant (whereas Morozko is an ancient wisp of a man) and partly because Morozko always does what she wants, even if it makes him unhappy and anxious.
Of course, Morozko can never stay away from her for long. He is mesmerized by her vibrancy, her bravery, and her authenticity. One reason why we love Vasya is because she is always herself. So it is no surprise to discover that Morozko loves her and desires her, while she tends to give him short shrift. But there is another, darker, reason why he needs to stay close. Eventually, Vasya realizes what that reason is, and because she prizes freedom (whereas he wants to tie her to him forever) she explodes, thus breaking his hold over her.
There are many reasons why this novel sings. It is extremely well-paced, there are no unnecessary details cluttering up the narrative flow, the dialogue is marvelous, the descriptions stunning, and like all really good novelists, Ms. Arden knows how to let emotions spill onto the page. The end of the novel provides us with a happy ending of sorts (thank heaven) but more awaits in Volume 3 of this trilogy. Five Stars.