Having loved The Bear and the Nightingale, I hoped that Katherine Arden’s sequel, The Girl in the Tower, would be the first book I previewed in 2018 but when the publication date was pushed up to early December instead of its original January release date, I simply didn’t have time to finish it and write a review before published. So instead, it is my first book review of 2018 and hopefully, will get me back onto a weekly (or possibly biweekly) book review schedule. Either way, in terms of material, The Girl in the Tower is a fantastic way to start 2018. Though sequels can be tricky, Arden’s follow up to The Bear and the Nightingale was everything I could have hoped and establishes a firm footing for the rest of this trilogy.
With her father and stepmother dead under mysterious circumstances and her village still reeling from the supernatural battle fought under their unsuspecting noses, Vasya has few options. Unwilling to submit to the choices offered by her family and society, Vasya flees and disguises herself as a boy in order to live the life she yearns to have. As her path takes her back into the lives of her beloved brother, Sasha, serving the Grand Prince, and her married sister, Olga, awaiting the birth of her third child, Vasya’s disguise comes under closer scrutiny with dangerous consequences if the truth of her identity should be discovered.
While I think I preferred The Bear and the Nightingale more at a thematic level for its exploration of civilization/organized religion and the older, wilder traditions of rural communities, The Girl in the Tower resonates in terms of how it depicts balances of power, especially those between the sexes. The contrast between what Vasya is capable of doing from the first novel to this second and what Vasya is permitted to do when she outwardly presents herself as male hits notes about double standards and the dismissal of women. The novel may feel heavy handed at times, but I think that is less due to the novel’s execution and more to what’s happening in current events. It isn’t meant to be subtle in the book, but it seems all the more obvious because the current international discourse on women’s issues has (or should have) us all more aware of such things in our everyday lives.
Structurally, I found The Girl in the Tower interesting. Rather than pick up immediately with Vasya, whom we’re most familiar with after The Bear and the Nightingale, the novel starts with her sister and brother, whom we met briefly in the first novel but didn’t carry much of that plot’s weight. In the first section of this novel, it becomes clearer that it was important to see them before as a means of gauging just how much Vasya has (and hasn’t) changed since she (and we) saw them last. Seeing the threads of this story come together felt cleaner but almost lost something in their predictability.
With the way this second novel ended, I’m fascinated—and devastated—by the prospect that there is only one more novel planned for this series. I will certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for news of when that book will be released and hope to get a galley copy (which I won’t delay starting by even a day) so I can finish and write it up before the publication date this time.