The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

It may well be still summer but I just spent three days under the snow covered trees in medieval Russia. This book tugged at my heart and took a huge chunk of it with it. It was beautiful. Katherine Arden’s writing is just so brilliant, she really puts effort into every single paragraph. I cried at mere sentences and marvelled at her skill as a writer. Her language is sophisticated and she manages to say so much with just a few words. It’s like poetry, really.

Rezultat iskanja slik za the girl in the tower

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale ended, but it is much more action packed than the first book. That’s why I think it will appeal more to those who found the story a bit slow in The Bear and the Nightingale – here the pacing is fast and unexpected. I really loved the occasional references to the events that took place in the first book because they were there but the author didn’t summarise them fully which usually happens in series.

Morozko and Vasya are my dream team. I swooned over all their shared scenes and found them heart wrenching and at times almost unbearable. We get to see so much more of Morozko here, his story, his reasons for visiting Vasya, and Vasya herself has grown so much from the first book. She is a wonderful lead character and I adored her.

Arden’s characters are so well written, complex and fleshed out, full of flawes yet so lovable – in short they feel very realistic – it is a breeze of fresh air from the typical YA series where everyone is pretty much the same. Sasha and Olga were portrayed so intricately, I loved the way we got to see more of how and why they do the things that they do. This is character development at its highest.

Despite the fairy tale elements this book reads more like historical fiction than fantasy. Arden took great care to portray the medieval Russia properly; there is a mixture of politics, feminism, fairy tales, religion and the struggle for power. Vasya was trying to break free from the traditional role of women in Russian society and she deserves all the praise for that. The world building was just stunning.

Rezultat iskanja slik za the girl in the tower

The food! OMG, I loved the food descriptions. The writing in general was very atmospheric, it really transported me to that world despite the fact that I am currently on holiday and it’s hot outside – it felt chilly while reading the book. I really can’t tell you enough how much I adored this book. It got all the stars.

The trouble is, I’ll have to wait until January to read the next and final book in the series. How will I ever manage that?

Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name.

Katherine Arden, The Girl in the Tower

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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

After I finished reading Uprooted at the start of the year which instantly became one of my favourite fantasy standalones, I was so eager to get to this book. I just knew I would love it as much as Uprooted because Novik has a wonderful writing style, magical and fairy tale inspired and she crafts such detailed worlds in her books, you are immediately transported to them after reading just one chapter. I was a bit scared at first because I kept wondering: “What if I don’t like the book? How can it possibly be as good as Uprooted?” but all my fears were squashed to death in the first hundred or so pages. This story captured my heart and filled me with so much joy.

The book is told by three main protagonists but we also get individual chapters which are written from the POV of other characters so we really get a rounded story at the end of it. I was a bit confused about the different narrators at the beginning because the chapters are only marked with numbers so you don’t immediately tell there’s been a shift in narration but once I picked up on that, it was fairly easy to see the different writing styles that each girl used to tell her side of the story.

Image result for spinning silverThis book is the perfect balance of character and plot driven narrative. Miryem, Wanda and Irina are all so different from each other but interesting in their own way and I was blown away by how the author changed her writing according to whichever girl was telling the story. That shows real skill! My favourite character was Miryem and I loved reading about her ventures in the winter kingdom. I think she was insanely brave and determined and heart warmingly generous.

Novik spins such a wonderful web of different stories; we have the fairy tale element, the retelling of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, the historical background set around the Russian history and social injustice and religous prejudice towards the Jews, then we get to see some feminist ideas when Wanda refuses to marry the man her father picked for her. There is politics, the ever present battle for power, the good old darkness vs light power struggle, we have a bit of romance (although not enough for my taste, I have to admit) and at the center of it all is the friendship and love and compassion which holds us together.

I can’t say which book I loved more: Uprooted or Spinning Silver. They were both set in the same world and had elements of fairy tale and fantasy which were superbly portrayed and both books had such interesting female characters. I think I can honestly say that I love both books equally. Since I read Uprooted in Slovenian translation, it’s hard to compare the language but I can without doubt say that Novik’s writing style is rich and full of imagery, it fits so perfectly with the detailed world she has built.

The only thing that confused me in this book was the way the Staryk king spoke: I had to reread some of his paragraphs just to make sure I knew what he was saying because the language he uses is archaic. Still that adds to the experience and well done for thinking of it. Novik is without a doubt one of my favourite fantasy authors and I have yet to tackle her Temeraire series. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it.

But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.” 

Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

Yesterday morning I set my alarm clock to 7 o’clock so I could finish this wonderful, heartbreaking story about old spirits, a beguiling winter demon and a courageous girl whose eccentricity put fear into the hearts of her fellow villagers. This book is a true jem of fantasy literature and I am already counting down days till the paperback release of the second part in the series. It is filled with magic and love and interesting characters and the language is rich and inventive.

What I love most about this book is the portrayal of family relations and the love that binds siblings together no matter what. Alyosha was probably my favourite character besides Vasya because he stood by her side despite what others said about her. He didn’t let society shape his opinion, instead he had a mind of his own and I loved him for that.

Vasya was such a great main character, unique and resilient and brave despite her fears. The winter demon was the most enigmatic character in the book which I did expect because he is after all the lord of the winter. The scenes in the last third of the book were so wonderful and filled with little hints, I couldn’t help but guess what would happen in the next two books.

Although I like romance in a fantasy novel, I actually didn’t miss it here. I mean, there were some hints of a romance woven in there but it was far from your typical YA love story. I wouldn’t even call it a love story, perhaps just a glimpse into what could (will?) happen. The mixture of old spirits and Christianity was tackled spectacularly and I thought the fear of the unknown was so realistically portrayed, I completely understood why people used to burn witches or so called wise women at stakes.

The characters were layered and not one of them was purely good or bad. Konstantin’s struggles pained me but he got on my nerves because of his fierce piousness and Anna Ivanovna seemed just crazy to me. The overall plot, the battle between good(ish) and bad was very original in its form and I honestly didn’t know what would happen next. I was glad to see the author wasn’t afraid to kill off some of the characters, even the ones I liked.

The story started a bit slow but man it picked up the pace. The last third of the book was so intense, I got freaked out at some parts and was even scared to go to bed, it was that scary. I think the story hinted at a lot of things, but the hints were so well crafted, it’s difficult to say what to expect next. I just know I’ll pre-order the second book and read it as soon as it arrives in the mail.

I urge fans of fantasy and YA literature to pick up this book and read it in one sitting. It’s insanely good and unlike anything I’ve read. It instanly became one of my favourite reads of the year and it’s barely April.

Seasonal favourites: Winter 2018

Winter is almost over (finally!) and I thought it was time to talk about some things I’ve been loving in the past couple of months. Obviously the most important things on this list are books – I’ve had a pretty good reading start to the year though I think that’s starting to change. I’ve also watched some amazing films and TV series and I want to share them with you.

First of all the best books of this winter were (in no particular order) Uprooted by Naomi Novik, La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve posted reviews on all of these books so I won’t get too much into details here, they were all wonderful and one of my favourite fantasy books of all times and I can’t wait to read them again. This winter has been great for reading fantasy literature.

The next thing I want to talk about is my favourite TV series (and no, it’s not Arrow). I actually started watching Victoria again and I love Jenna Coleman so much, I think she’s great as queen Victoria. I’m not a huge fan of the actor who plays Albert but maybe he’ll grow on me, I am currently still watching season 1 so perhaps that will change with season 2. This series has reminded me how much I love period dramas. Downton Abbey has got to be my favourite TV series and Victoria is just as wonderful.

I’ve seen quite a lot of films this past months but the one that sticks out is Black Panther. To tell you the truth, I am not the biggest Marvel fan because the stories are too similar for my liking and the films packed with action and not enough character development, but I went to see Black Panther on opening night and I my mind was blown away. IT WAS SO GOOD. Not only was the story more original and complex than in your average Marvel film but the female characters were just amazing. I can’t wait to see more of them in the upcoming Avengers film.

Moving on to my favourite music of this past winter, I actually didn’t listen to any new bands. However, I did listen to a lot of Disney soundtracks. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be an adult. But I learned that listening to Disney songs while studying or writing papers really helps me relax. Even now, I’m listening to a piano versions of the songs on Youtube and I feel surprisingly calm.

I can go on talking about my favourite food of this winter (chocolate cake with red wine infusion), my favourite drink (mint tea) and my favourite piece of clothing (my Harry Potter sweat pants) but I think those are pretty self explanatory. I’m trying to decide about a favourite moment but there were too many of them to choose from (plus I forgot like half of them). For my last favourite category I chose favourite book purchase and it has to be the illustrated version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them because the illustrations are simply beautiful and I just love browsing through the pages.