After the critical success of "The Bear and the Nightingale" in 2017, Katherine Arden from Austin, Texas, returns again with another elegantly designed world that combines folklore and fantasy, with a touch of historical fiction just in case.
"The Girl in the Tower", the second installment of her Winternight trilogy, begins where "The Bear and the Nightingale" stayed.
Set in medieval Russia, the story stars Vasilisa Petrovna (Vasya), the protagonist of the race after being accused of witchcraft after the violent death of her father and stepmother.
Finding a brief refuge in the fir house of a Morozko, a morally ambiguous frost demon, Vasya soon craves adventure. As she leaves the safety of the forest, she begins her new life as a traveler, exploring Russia far beyond the limits of her childhood home.
Understanding the dangers of traveling alone as a woman, Vasya disguises herself as a man while traveling through the frozen countryside of ancient Rus & # 39; (the word Russia was not in common use until the seventeenth century).
When discovering a series of villages, each one reduced to ashes, with their kidnapped youths, Vasya decides to free the girls and stop the bandits. But a chance meeting after a bloody confrontation sees her as welcome at the court of the Grand Prince of Moscow.
However, it soon emerges that the city itself is threatened by something much more sinister than a band of opportunist rogues, and Vasya may be the only person who can protect the city and its people.
Friends and returning enemies
From the beginning, Arden's research and understanding of 14th century Russia is lovingly intertwined in "The Girl in the Tower". He combines historical characters and establishes folk tales in the fantasy environment of his own fictional world with apparent ease. Vasya and her brother, for example, seem as important a part of Russian history as Grand Prince Dmitry or the Golden Horde.
In fact, Arden spends much of his time developing more characters we thought we knew about in "The Bear and the nightingale, "when presenting new historical entities.
For example, we witness the development of Vasya's wisdom and strength as she has the space to grow and mature into adolescence. Finally it becomes more resistant, judicious and in tune with its own powers and magical abilities.
At the same time, Morozko (the demon of frost) loses a certain maturity; He is often capricious and occasionally petulant. Meanwhile, Olga, Vasya's sister, weakens both in spirit and in flesh. She capitulates to the expectations of her gender and position, turning her into a realistic counterpoint for Vasya, who has an almost unbreakable idealist perspective.
Gender plays a prominent role throughout the book. Vasya pushes against the conventions of his time with enough weight to make a convincing inversion of expectations, without being anachronistic or didactic tone. It is always gratifying to see our young heroine and fight against the arbitrary rules imposed by men of the Middle Ages, with the courage of their own convictions and sense of justice.
This time there are less demons and spirits of the house, and that is one of my main disappointments with the book. The conversations and encounters of Vasya with Domovois (small bearded monsters that live in the furnace and protect the house), along with other peculiar creatures, were a great part of the charm of Arden's debut. His sober presence offered an almost magical-realistic glow to the narrative that, I hope, recovers its protagonism in the final book.
Similar to the spirit and temperament of its protagonist, the style and voice of Arden carry with it a particular ineffable magic, revealed for the first time in "The Bear and the Nightingale". His prose is of pleasant rhythm and often intensely evocative.
From the first chapter of the book, Arden will transport you skillfully to an alternative and forgotten Russia in the heart of winter. So vivid was his writing, the frozen forests and snow-covered landscapes had me looking for a cozy corner every time I sat down to read.
Rarely Arden presents abstruse or unnecessary narrative deviations. Instead, we are treated with a mixture of clarity and lyrical curls of thought, which the author can invoke at will, manifested in his own words or in the depth of Arden's research.
For example, both books in the trilogy suggest (among other things) a great knowledge of medieval chivalric romance. It sits silently below the surface, providing a firm rock upon which the author has built her own world.
What is Vasya's horse, Solovey, if it is not a Gringolet reinvented? And who could deny the echoes of Gawain's girdle on Vasya's magic pendant?
And that's why the book is such a captivating fantasy work: it offers a successful combination of familiarity with a new and exciting story. The evocative prose of Arden, which represents an ancient and frozen Russia with touches of magic, contributes to great escapism and perfect winter reading.
The novel works well as an independent, but my suggestion is to start with "The bear and the nightingale". "To make the most of the second part of this trilogy, you will not regret it.
You can buy" The Girl in the Tower ", published by Del Rey Books, for £ 8 on January 25. If you are in the US. Or in Australia, you can get a copy now for $ 11 or AU $ 12, respectively.
The Winternight trilogy concludes with "Winter of the Witch," which will be released later this year.
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