The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
I'm always nervous when reading sequels, or series in general, when the first book blows it out of the park. Because if the next books in the series are not as good, it diminishes the success of the first one, and you still need to read to find out what happens to those beloved characters.
So I was nervous when reading this book because I found such a gem in The Bear and the Nightingale. But thankfully, Arden did it again and wrote yet another beautiful, magical and enchanting story set in medieval Russia. She perfectly mixes historical and magical, depicting the upheaval of the time, politics, invaders and a feudal system but also entwining fairy tales, spirits and creatures that haunt or protect this land.
This second book in the series picks up where we leave Vasya, scared of what her town will do to her now that they all believe she is a witch. Will she be married off or thrown into a convent? Vasya cannot allow herself to be thrust into either of those situations, locked in a tower the rest of her life, so she decides to dress as a boy and travel to different towns. Along the way, she gets caught up in fighting against a group of bandits pillaging towns and taking the young girls. She catches the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow with her heroic efforts and has to carefully hide her true identity lest the Prince punish her brother and sister as well due to her deception.
Vasya's brother and sister who had small roles in the first book become much bigger characters within this book. Through Vasya's sister, Olga, we learn more about how the women are expected to act in this time, the very confined life they have to live. Through Vasya's brother, Sasha, we delve more into the monasteries and new religion sweeping through Russia as well as the struggles of being a confidant to the Grand Prince and leader of many people. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the sections that are focused solely on these two characters even though we only get small snippets of our main heroine Vasya.
We then have a couple new characters in this story that strengthens the story, as well as shows how much Vasya has grown due to these experiences.
I was impressed and delighted with this story and am (im)patiently waiting for the third and final installment to find out what happens to these amazing characters.
"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."
Synopsis: Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home. She soon finds herself called upon to help defend the cit of Moscow when it comes under siege. Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to a convent or allow her sister to make her a match of marriage, both confine her to a tower. Vasya instead chooses adventure, and sets out disguised as a young boy. When a battle earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces and protect her family, even as she realizes only she can stop the mysterious forces threatening his kingdom.