Revisiting the Russian Fairytale | The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden [ARC]

This is the second book in the Winternight Trilogy. To see my review of the first book, please click here.

The Girl in the TowerAfter the events of the first book, Vasya knows that she can’t stay in her small town. She bridles her horse, Solovey, and takes off to finally have the adventure that she’s always longed for. Soon after, she discovers a village that’s been burned to the ground. Many of the villagers are dead and some have had their daughters taken. Vasya can find no trace of these bandits but doesn’t let that stop her. As she continues on her journey, she’ll find herself embroiled in Moscow politics and longing for a life that she may never be able to have.

This was a great follow-up to the The Bear and the Nightingale. It was very much in the same tone and the characters were just as real and complex as they were before (if not more so). Vasya isn’t always the most likable character, but she does make sense. She lives in a different time where women were just expected to stay in their towers all day, every day. Instead, Vasya longs for adventure and the reader can feel that throughout the book. She’s so conflicted because she doesn’t like lying by pretending to be a boy, but she knows that she wouldn’t be as helpful (or happy) if everyone knew she was a girl.

As far as other characters go, we get to know Morozko, Sasha, and Olga a lot better than we did in the first book in addition to new characters like Dimitrii and Olga’s daughter. This gives the reader a really diverse and interesting cast of secondary characters to get to know. I, personally, was not in favor of the priest from her hometown coming back. He’s just so…creepy. But I guess that’s the point.

The plot is slow-moving, but not boring by any means. I didn’t necessarily feel compelled to pick the book back up after I was done reading for the day, but I think that says more about my own reading preferences than the book itself. Arden is a talented writer and that shows through in this book just as it did in the first one. There’s the smallest little bud of a romance that blossoms in this book. I’ll be honest, I was wanting this romance from the first book, so I’m glad it’s getting explored and I hope we see more of it in the third book.

If you’re interested in historical Russia, Russian fairytales, or just love beautifully written (albeit slow-moving) books, then I would definitely recommend this book. I look forward to seeing what Arden comes out with next.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Heavy, but not SUPER descriptive
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Russian Fairy Tales Come to Life | The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden [ARC]

The Bear and the NightingaleVasya was born on a windy night to a dying mother who knew that Vasya was going to be someone special. As Vasya grows and becomes more and more wild, her father starts to worry that she needs a motherly influence. So he goes to Moscow and brings back a bride whose sanity may be a little questionable¬†as she claims to see demons where others see nothing. While learning how to live with her new step-mother, Vasya continues to develop into a striking young woman who may have inherited a little bit of her grandmother’s magic.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I thought the writing was beautiful and I was very interested to learn about Russian mythology and fairy tales as that is an area that I know literally nothing about. I’ve always been a fan of mythology and fairy tales in general, so it was just fun to hear some new stories. I thought the author did a great job of incorporating Russian culture and language into the overall story without ruining the flow. I did find myself wondering, however, whether this was supposed to be a complete alternate Russia/Russia-derivative (kind of like Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha-verse) or if it was simply a fantastical historical Russia. The author’s note at the end of the book cleared that question up, but it wasn’t really clear throughout the story and I found myself distracted in some parts.

I thought Vasya was a really compelling character. I loved how the author starts the book with Vasya’s birth and we get to follow her into her teenage years. It really allows the reader to watch the character develop and helps us to understand who she is and what her motivations are. I also thought Vasya stayed really true to who she was supposed to be as a character throughout. Sometimes I’ve found that characters do things that don’t really make sense with who they are supposed to be, but I thought Vasya was a great example of somebody who just made sense as a character. She was so complex and conflicted throughout the book. As a reader, I felt that I could really empathize with what she was going through. Vasya tries to be the good Russian girl that she’s supposed to be, but at the same time her heart is leading her in a completely separate direction. Just…a really good character. I also loved the cast of secondary characters that Arden gives¬†us. The familial relationships that exist between Vasya and her brothers and her younger step-sister felt so genuine.

The plot itself was a little slow-moving. It required a lot of setup, but I didn’t really find that I minded. The world that the author paints for us is so beautiful and filled with an ordinary (but at the same time not ordinary) magic. That being said, nothing much really happens until the last 25% of the book and then I felt that the ending was a bit abrupt.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes well-developed characters or who is interested in a historical picture of Russia. Just from a quick scan of Goodreads, it looks like this book is the author’s debut novel. I anticipate that we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

Overall: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Russian Wonder-Kid Saves LA from an Asteroid | Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy [ARC]

23018259There is an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and 17-year-old Yuri has been brought from Moscow to work with NASA scientists in¬†LA¬†because he is an antimatter specialist. Sure, none of his work has actually been published yet, but he knows he’s right–the math is right. So it’s especially frustrating that his team will not listen to him when he says that using antimatter is the only way to save the planet. On top of that, it’s starting to look like Yuri will never be able to return home (the fact that he snuck a look at some classified documents might have something to do with that though). As Yuri gets used to America, he’ll have to decide whether or not it’s more important to be right or to follow the rules.

For whatever reason, this book was an extremely slow read for me. I just wasn’t really into the story or the characters all that much. I mean, I should care about a plot where an asteroid is coming to destroy Earth, right? But I just wasn’t. Even though there was this terrible, impending doom, the plot was so slow. Mostly the reader is left to consider Yuri’s inner angst. The book also made saving the world from an asteroid seem incredibly simplistic. All we see is Yuri working on it–never any of the other scientists–and all he does all day is math. I mean, perhaps that’s really how it would be, but it just seems so…underwhelming. Has anyone seen the show “You, Me, and the Apocalypse”? Because that’s how I imagine things actually shaking down (good show by the way, I’m disappointed it won’t be coming back for another season).

A slow plot I can deal with sometimes, but the characters in this book seem incredibly unrealistic to me. Not that there couldn’t be a whiz kid from Russia, but Dovie and her family are not real. No way. They’re just too much! They only celebrate made up holidays? What is this? The only one of them I felt like I could kind of connect with was Lennon–he seemed the most normal. The rest of them were just too crazy. I did not like Dovie. That’s basically all I have to say about that. I just don’t get her. Also, the people at her school? Crazy and over the top as well. I mean, maybe some high schools¬†are like that, but mine certainly wasn’t and I have a hard time believing that any high school located in a major city/suburb would be.

I felt that the ending of the book was also anti-climactic. I liked that it didn’t end right when the world was or was not saved from the asteroid, but the¬†way the aftermath was described didn’t excite me. Overall, I thought this book had a pretty good idea, but lacked in execution. Probably give this one a pass.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.