The Girl in the Tower

51wy6en8tdl-_sx327_bo1204203200_The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Kathleen Gati

Source: my own collection

Length: 13:02:00

Publisher: Random House Audio

Year: 2017

The second book in Arden’s Winternight Trilogy picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off. Vasya is fleeing her home village, where her father is now dead and the villagers, at the urging of the nasty priest Constantine, are calling her a witch. Vasya plans to go to Moscow to her older sister Olga. On the way, though, Vasya discovers groups of bandits raiding and burning villages, stealing children, murdering the folk who live there, and is determined to put a stop to it. She dresses as a young noble boy and begins harrying the bandits and recovering children as she can. Eventually, she encounters her brother, Sasha,  who is out with their cousin Dmitrii, also hunting the bandits. Although Sasha is horrified that his sister is dressing as a boy, they have to maintain her ruse because Dmitrii is fooled and charmed by the boy he thinks Vasya is, and it would cause him to lose face to admit he had been fooled, as well as ruin Vasya’s reputation. As they continue the hunt, they are joined unexpectedly by another, unknown young nobleman, Kasyan, who offers his aid in hunting the bandits because he claims his own lands have also been raided by them as well.

In time, Vasya and the men return to Moscow where her sister Olga is brought into the secret of her sister’s traipsing across the country as a boy. Olga is furious and only with great reluctance goes along with continuing the ruse, for she understands the political ramifications, but eventually, of course, Vasya is found out. She is called witch and thrown in the women’s tower, as sure a prison for her as any dungeon cell, and is bound for a convent when she learns the truth about one of the noblemen and his plans. Vasya has to find a way to help save her family and the rest of Moscow before an evil demon can take over as Grand Prince of Moscow.

There are few things I didn’t love about this book. It’s pretty unique for the second book of a trilogy not to be mostly fluff and filler, but this one was outstanding. It had a solid plot, tons of character development, and action all the way through. Paired with Arden’s ability to craft gorgeous atmosphere and intriguing characters, this is a masterful work in its own right.

I love the lyrical style of Arden’s writing. I listened to this on audiobook, which I mostly do while driving, so I didn’t get a chance to bookmark any spots. I wish I could have done so because there were dozens of times that I thought to myself, “That’s a beautiful line” or “What a cool word” and would have included some quotes in my review. But alas. In general, though, the writing added a sense of surrealness that heightened the magic in the story.

Vasya’s development throughout was strong. She started out as a girl, but not a child, and by the end had grown into a young woman. She had some hard lessons to learn in this novel, and being who she is, she had to learn them all the hardest way she possibly could. Everything that happened to her has served a purpose, and will help hone her into a strong woman that is able to face the challenges that will come in the final book of the trilogy.

The focus on gender roles throughout the novel is empowering. I love a good feminist fantasy! Vasya throws traditional roles out the window when she refuses to marry or to go to a convent, which were the only two options available to a girl of her social status at that time. She further tromps on them when she dresses as a boy and goes gallivanting around the country all by herself. Well, she has Solovey, her sentient magical horse, as her companion, but most people she knows wouldn’t count that. Her freedom when she is passing as a boy serves to underscore the stifling life that highborn women have to endure once she gets to Moscow and sees how her sister lives her entire life in the women’s tower, never leaving or going outside except to go to church. There is also the accusation of “witch” that follows Vasya from her village to Moscow, which is traditionally given to women. Sasha said as much near the end whe he told her that men call some women witches because they have no other name for them. In a way, Vasya is a witch because she can, indeed, see the nature and house spirits that many others cannot, and she can speak to horses, and she is fearless and bold. She is a role model for brave girls, not meek and timid ones, and so a witch she must be. All girls should have a role model like Vasya.

Also, all girls should have a horse like Solovey.

I cannot wait until the third book comes out! I’m preordering the audiobook as soon as I get my credit for the month from Audible.

 

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2018 End of Year Wrap Up

Another year down the drain. Where did the time go?? I must be getting old or something because it seems like 2018 was just beginning. I had a busy year but managed not to do a ton of things. I do have a few highlights, though. I am going to be better about doing a year in review post from now on, mostly to keep myself on track and see what I actually did and what I need to do better in the future. Might as well share it with the interwebs. 🙂

Things that I didn’t actually do:

My sweet girl started 3rd grade. She goes to a school that teaches a grade level ahead and she’s killing it. Math isn’t her favorite subject, but she does a good job with it. Better than I EVER did. And she loves reading, which delights me to no end. She reads wayyy above her grade level. Her favorite books are the Wings of Fire series. We also just read the first Harry Potter book and now she’s obsessed. She loves Star Trek, Dr Who, and Star Wars, so I feel like maybe I’m doing something right. She’s so smart, funny, pretty, and kind. She is also stubborn and defiant and challenging and headstrong and brave. She’s my little Viking and as frustrating as she can be at times, I wouldn’t change one single thing. She is stronger than I am in a lot of ways and I try hard to foster her individuality and teach her that it’s ok to speak up and use her voice in ways I was never allowed to do when I was little. I am so proud of her and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Right now, though, she has a super gross cold, so I imagine what she comes up with with be some form of snot…

My mom started going to an all-women’s boxing gym in early spring and loves it, which makes me super proud of her. With the exception of probably Amy, my mom could most likely kick every one of my friends’ asses without too much trouble. That’s handy, since most of my friends could use a good ass kicking. 🙂 She got me started in on it as well, and so I’ve been going since May. I can throw some hard punches now for a little girl and am getting in pretty good shape. Thanks for talking me into trying it out, Mom!

My favorite books of 2018:

Favorite podcasts I discovered:

Movies I saw in the theatre:

  • Christopher Robin. I took my daughter to see it. We both fucking loved Eeyore. But I think this is the only movie I actually went to all year. I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. I want time to stop while I’m in the theatre so it’s the same time when I get out as it was when I went in. Since it’s not, I tend to feel like I’m wasting my time. If I went to another movie this year, damned if I can remember it.

Favorite new shows I discovered:

  • Star Trek: Discovery. I just got the DVDs of this for Xmas, so this is a BRAND new discovery (heh, see what I did there?) of 2018 for me. I absolutely refuse to pay for a subscription to CBS All-Access when most of the shows on CBS are, IMO, utter shit, and even the paid subscription has ads. Fuck off, CBS. I’ll wait for the DVDs. That said, this is a fantastic new addition to the Trekverse and I have a feeling I’ll be writing posts about this.
  • Shetland, by Netflix. It’s based on a series of novels by Ann Cleeves, which I’ve never read. I’ve found the plot itself to be fairly typical, just another police procedural. But I watch it for the cinematography. Ye GODS, it’s so fucking beautiful in the Shetland Islands! There’s no sun, no shadows, it looks cold and miserable and I have to go there immediately. It looks like a place where I would never get migraines unless it was hormonal.

Wherein I use my thinking part:

  • I made a concerted effort to write a review for every book I read this past year. For the most part, I managed it, but I think there were a couple I might have missed. In 2019, I’m going to work on writing better reviews than I did in 2018. I’m also going to write fewer reviews FOR other people except Discovering Diamonds, because I want to read more for my own pleasure.
  • I started a post-graduate certification program in Tolkien Studies through Signum University. It’s been excellent for me, getting to think again. Mostly, I feel like I’m losing my mind and my brain will start leaking out my ears any minute. Starting grad classes again has been a great kick for me, helping me to see that I do still have some brain cells, and I can still write good papers. Out of my first class (I’ve done 2 so far, and need a total of 5 to complete the program), I submitted a paper to the major Tolkien conference in England for August 2019. I don’t know yet if it’s been accepted. The CFP isn’t closed until February, so I won’t know until after that. It would be shiny if I get to present my paper, but if I don’t, that’s ok. If I don’t, it will save me a shit ton of money since I’m planning to go to Scotland in October 2019, but if I do get to present my paper, that will be cool, too. It’s about how liminal space in literature helps define character identity, using The Hobbit and Coraline as my example texts.
  • One of my coworkers and I started a book club at work for all the staff and faculty in our college. Really, it’s all about being able to read at work… Our first book was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The next is going to be Circe by Madeline Miller.

Speaking of reading, I did pretty well with my reading goals this year. I topped out at 97 books, not counting ones I DNF’d. In total, I read 21,131 pages and listened to 246:45 hours of audiobooks. I averaged 8 books a month. I read 59 books by women (60%) and 38 by men (39%). I read 24 books by authors of color (not quite 25%). In 2019, I’d like to bump that up to at least 30%. I read mostly SFF (33), historical fiction (25), and literary fiction (16), with other genres falling in here and there. I didn’t finish the Read Harder 2018 challenge, but I got 19 out of 24 tasks:

  1. A book published posthumously: NA
  2. A book of true crime: NA
  3. A classic of genre fiction: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (fantasy)
  4. A comic written and illustrated by the same person: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  6. A book about nature: NA
  7. A western: Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell
  8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  9. A book of colonial or post-colonial literature: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  10. A romance by or about a person of color: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
  11. A children’s classic written before 1980: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  12. A celebrity memoir: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  14. A book of social science: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  15. A one-sitting book: Sea Witch by Helen Hollick
  16. The first in a new-to-you YA or MG series: Grimmtastic Girls#1: Cinderella Stays Late by Joan Holub
  17. A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Solomon Rivers
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, GC, or Image: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation: NA, unless you count A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  20. A book with a cover you hate: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  21. A mystery by a POC or LGBTQ+ author: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
  22. An essay anthology: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Misfortune of Vision (Druids Brooch #4) by Christy Nicholas
  24. An assigned book you hated or never finished: NA

And, really, the biggest thing of 2018 is that I was approached by an editor at Pen and Sword Books to see if I wanted to write a book about a couple medieval queens for them. Umm, YES? I’m waiting for the contract, which has been approved but not sent to me yet, so I’ll wait to share more deets, but that honestly about blew me away. I’m so excited and I am looking forward to the process.

In 2019, some goals I have, other than writing the book and doing what I can to help the Resistance put 45 and his tribe in prison, are:

  1. Read 150 books
  2. Start running again and do a 5k
  3. Start journaling again
  4. Embrace minimalism
  5. Eat cleaner

We’ll see how things pan out. 2019, let’s do this.