The Girl in the Tower picks up where The Bear and the Nightingale ended, following the next steps of Vasya Petrovna. After being accused as a witch and cast out of her village and into the forest, Vasya is faced with a choice: to survive as a woman in medieval Russia, she must either marry or join a convent. Vasya, who would rather risk death than be trapped in either of these scenarios, enlists the help of the winter demon Morozko to travel the world instead. She takes off on an adventure, disguised as a boy, with Morozko's magical horse Solovey. During her travels, a heroic action wins her a place in the good graces of the Grand Prince of Moscow. However, now in the spotlight of society, her life is in more danger than ever; she must keep her gender a secret or risk exile or worse. When she uncovers a plot that threatens the entire kingdom, her secret becomes harder to keep than ever.
I don't think I fully appreciated The Bear and the Nightingale. I read it around the same time that I read Spinning Silver (which is also really good, I definitely recommend it), and these two stories are similar in many ways - both draw from Russian mythology; both have strong female leads who defy traditional gender roles and capture the heart of a winter demon. In The Girl in the Tower, however, the Winternight Trilogy emerges into its own unique and memorable story line. The real strength of the book was the character development - each character was unique and multi-dimensional. I loved Vasya's bravery and strong will, but also her desire to help others and her love for her family. I adored the relationship between Vasya and her horse, Solovey; their interactions added levity and charm to the story. I also melted over the slowly growing romance between Vasya and Morozko, and I can't wait to see where that leads in the final book of the trilogy. The Winternight series definitely has my full attention now, and I'm looking forward to the conclusion in The Winter of the Witch!