Vasilisa Petrovna’s adventures continue in The Girl in the Tower, by Katherine Arden, the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale. Without her family to shield her from the hostile villagers of Lesnaya Zemlya, she lights out for the territories on her trusty, magical horse to become a traveler. But because a) Russian fairy tales tend to be as bloodthirsty or more than Grimms’ and b) fourteenth century Russia is no picnic anyway, Vasilisa is almost immediately in peril.
In fourteenth century Russia, women have few options. It’s either marriage or a convent. And, for high ranking women, marriage came with lifelong seclusion in terem. All Vasilisa wants is to see the world. Though her protector, Morozko (the snow-king) tries to dissuade her, Vasilisa takes to the road. Meanwhile, we also check in with Vasilisa’s older sister, Olga, in Moscow, and her warrior-monk brother, Sasha. As Vasilisa is making her way, disguised as a boy, Olga is trying to maintain order in her haunted tower and Sasha is dealing with the fallout of a series of violent attacks on villages around Moscow by bandits who don’t leave tracks.
It doesn’t take long for the siblings’ stories to intersect and for Vasilisa to realize that she’s up against something supernatural. Again. I don’t want to say too much because if I start talking about what happens, anyone who knows a bit about Russian folklore might be able to figure things out too soon. But I will say that I love the way Vasilisa and her family are caught between the native spirits of Russia who are still hanging on in the banyas and hearths of the country and the new Orthodox faith that dismisses the bannik and domovoi as devils. A few centuries before, Vasilisa might not have had to deal with everything alone or been accused of witchcraft. Half (or more) of Vasilisa’s fight is just trying to get people to at least allow her get on with things.
I remember liking The Bear and the Nightingale a lot, but I think I might have enjoyed this entry in the series even more. The stakes have been raised in The Girl in the Tower. The story has widened to bring in even more figures from Russian folklore. But most of all, I love who Vasilisa is becoming. She is learning that she is mostly on her own and she grows increasingly capable with every new challenge. She also has a gift for pushing her family and allies to be better people, to become heroes. There’s so much in The Girl in the Tower that I loved. I strongly recommend these books for fans of folklore and folklore retellings.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 5 December 2017.