My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Date read: November 13th, 2017
Published by Random House, Ebury Press, January 25th 2018
Verdict: Atmospherical, beautiful, stressful.
For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic…
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…
I adore the world Katherine Arden has created here. The things I loved, loved, loved about the first part of this series are still all here:
- brilliant characters with believable interactions,
- sibling relationships that are complicated and true,
- an atmosphere so all-encompassing that it makes you forget your own surroundings,
- wonderfully immersive descriptions,
- a surprising and wonderful way to construct sentences that just sound like nobody else (in the best possible way) while still retaining that fairy-talesque rhythm that makes this series so readable,
- an understanding of the essence of fairy-tales that shows itself in the brilliant way the familiar tropes are both used and subverted, and
- the wonderful setting of Medieval Russia.
- And many more things.
From the very first chapter I was fully immersed in the story as we follow Vasya fleeing her home town after the events of the last book lest she be burned as a witch. Having only herself and her horse Solovey to rely on, this book has much higher stakes than the first one. Vasya pretends to be a boy and gets not only herself but her older siblings Sasha and Olga caught up in a web of lies.
I was not quite as enamored as I was with the first book (although to be fair, that book was one of the best things I have read in years…). Most of that comes down to simple genre preferences. This second book is a lot more fast-paced while the first one created a wonderfully slow narrative with clever twists on familiar fairy tales; this book reads more like a conventional YA-Fantasy (albeit a brilliantly written and very beautiful one). My biggest problem was the “pretending to be someone else”-trope. This is one of my least favourite tropes and stresses me out to no end. The dread this built made this a very different read for me.
But beyond this tiny little issue, I was wildly pleased with this book; I adore what Katherine Arden has created here and I find her vision and her voice beyond exciting. I am happy to have been there from the beginning and I cannot imagine not reading each and every single thing she will ever write.
First sentence: “A girl rode a bay horse through a forest late at night.”
I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.