One thing that struck me right away in The Bear and the Nightingale was the way Arden introduced the fairy tale to the reader through character storytelling. Not only does it tie everything together into a lovely bow, it is a wonderful tactic to familiarize any reader with the retelling. Not being particularly familiar with Russian folklore, I was elated that she used the same tactic in The Girl in the Tower to introduce the tale of Snegurochka, the snow child who became Morozko’s Goddaughter and helper.
“But some say she died,” she said sadly. “For that is the price of loving.”
It is very interesting how Arden retells this tale and applies its implications towards Morozko, himself instead of Snegurochka. His undeniable connection to Vasya, a human girl, pulls him towards the life of the living. Yet, his true nature is an obstacle that will most-likely be the downfall of this budding romance.
Despite the fact that I was playing a bit of catch up, it was to my satisfaction that much of the indecisiveness The Bear and the Nightingale left me with was cleared up in the first few chapters. There still were a few small details that left me wanting for more explanation, but I’m hoping The Winter of the Witch will address those.
Moving on to things I liked:
#1 In my opinion, the world building is the most notable characteristic of The Girl in the Tower. The reader doesn’t need to work at all to fall into the crystalline setting of this story. The moment I started reading, a wintry chill crept in and trapped me into this medieval era in Russia. The atmosphere of this book is everything. If you are looking for a Winter read, this series is perfect for that! You have (of course) snow, a snow/death demon, wintry horse races, and so much more!
#2 The entire cast is perfection. With such a wide variety of people and creatures, it’s hard not to become invested in them.
(of only more prominent characters)
Vasya‘s character is the perfect combination of a strong female character, that has some sense. It’s a common theme to make female characters rather brutish in fantasy nowadays. Gladly, I never had this feeling while following Vasya. She retains her free spirit, braveness, selflessness, and is simply a delightful character.
When Vasya must leave her home, she decides that she wants to live a life of freedom and adventure. Morozko tries, yet cannot sway her yearning. Instead, he aids her to disguise herself as a young man as it was dangerous to travel as a woman alone. Although it was highly against the rules, her new identity of Vasilicii ushered her into the world of men, along with their politics.
Soon, she realizes that in order to gain favor with men, including the Grand Prince Dimitrii, she must prove herself. Time after time, she does. However, her growing reputation is forgotten when she is discovered to be a woman during a duel race with Kasyan.
Faced with difficult choices, Vasya remains true to herself and stands for herself and family.
Sasha: After encountering his sister Vasya disguised as a man, Sasha’s morals are challenged. Knowing her precarious state, he puts on a front and introduces her as his little brother. He puts his own reputation on the line as a priest to ensure his sister’s safety. (The things we do for our family!)
Olga: While her presence was quite apparent in this story, Olga didn’t have much of an impact on me. Her character is essential, as it exemplifies the societal structure, especially among the upper-class citizens.
Kasyan: I had thought that Konstantin couldn’t be rivaled in his vileness, but he has met his match. Kasyan, one of Vasya’s male acquaintances along the road, discovers that she is a woman. He ends up revealing her secret to the Grand Prince, forcing her to choose between punishment or marriage. Vasya discovers that Kasyan holds a secret of his own, and is actually Koshchei, an old rival to Morozko.
Konstantin: While he was still just as despicable as ever, I felt a bit more satisfied that he sort of got what he deserved. However, I feel that it will not be the last of him in this series.
Other Beings: I must send a little shout out to my lovely Solovey and other creatures throughout this series. You all make it so much better! (And who doesn’t love a talking, sassy horse!?)
Morozko: I had some issues with Morozko in The Bear and the Nightingale as I wasn’t really understanding where his character was supposed to go. However, his stance was established quickly, and consistently. His obvious love for Vasya is undeniable and heartbreaking.
Which leads me to the third point of what I liked.
#3 The romance is deliciously innocent and believable. It’s clear that there is chemistry between the snow girl and the Winter Demon. Unlike many fast-paced, no-one-uses-their-heads kind of romances, this one is nearly infuriating because the reader wants Morozko and Vasya to be together (at least, I do!) but there are so many obstacles in between them making it nearly impossible!
#4 The way this story is written feels historically accurate. Yes, I know it’s a fantasy tale. However, before Christianity found its way into Russia, the Slavic (Rus) fictional character Ded Moroz (Morozko) held supreme. This battle between “the old gods and new gods” seems believable, as it did take time to convert non-believers to Christianity. Even though this is an underlying theme, these belief systems play a major role in the existence and well-being of the “mythical” creatures that add such flavor to this tale.
Things I didn’t like:
#1 While I gave this book a 5-star rating, one thing that I still had a bit of difficulty with was all of the characters. While this was less overwhelming than in The Bear and the Nightingale I still felt myself trying to figure out, or remember who a character was here and there.
#2 This isn’t a read for the weak. The depiction given of this Russia is brutal when one is a woman. Woman have hardly any rights, as shown when Vasya is discovered not to be a boy.
#3 Some further explanation would have been nice when regarding Koshchei the Deathless, portrayed by the character of Kasyan, and even the Nightingale. Little to no backstory is given on these characters’ involvement in Russian folklore.
Overall, I loved this read. The pacing is fast and incredibly intense. I can’t wait for The Winter of the Witch to come out!
Vulgarity: Moderate usage, mainly consisting of the B-word, as well as other degrading female terms.
Sexual content: While there aren’t any specific scenes, women aren’t treated well at this time in Russia. Basically, the moment a girl is out on the streets alone, no matter her intent, she’s fair game to any man.
Violence: Moderate. There is a child birthing scene which is a bit graphic, and tragic.
A big thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book!