Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

34050917The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the Winternight Trilogy.
The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite books of 2017, but this? This was a mess.

The problem with predictable books isn’t only that you already know what’s going to happen. It’s that the protagonist doesn’t, even when the answers are obvious. Predictable political intrigue makes your whole book feel cheap.
Here, the foreshadowing was heavy-handed. I already knew what was going to happen, there were so many hints I wonder how the characters didn’t understand it until the ending.

Vasya was so headstrong it was irritating to read. And I don’t mean “I won’t join a convent” kind of headstrong, I mean “I will challenge anyone and anything and intrude in things I don’t understand” kind of headstrong. Why?
I know why. The book needed a plot, but when your plot is driven by the characters making one terrible decision after another, you have a problem.
I still like her. One of my favorite aspects of this book were the characters, when there wasn’t miscommunication involved. I loved the family dynamics here: Vasya’s siblings want to help her, but what they want for her isn’t necessarily what she wants, and her just existing could get all of them in trouble.
Vasya and Solovey’s bond was still my favorite part of the book. And I really liked the romance – the scenes set in the forest were the best ones. But there weren’t enough of them: most of the book was set in Moscow, and that just didn’t feel as magical or atmospheric.

For most of this book, Vasilisa is dressed as a boy, and calls herself Vasilii. I love reading about gender-non-conforming female characters, but here the crossdressing plotline was handled terribly.

it was predictable. Of course someone is going to discover she’s not a boy. Someone is going to see her while she’s naked and notice that ~she’s actually a girl~. And guess what? It happened not once, but twice! Two naked reveal scenes!

all the unfortunate implications. The naked reveal scene is a transphobic trope; the author is using a transphobic narrative without exploring it in a book where there are no trans people. While I can understand that because it’s historical fiction (you could say that trans people are still more realistic than frost demons, but I understand), trans people today very much exist and are going to read your book. I hate when a book is clearly written with the assumption that a certain group of people is never going to pick it up.

it’s just not what I want to read. It’s “I want to throw the book across the room” unpleasant. No, I don’t want to read about a gender-non-conforming woman who is stripped in front of a crowd to demonstrate that ~she’s actually a girl~. Why would I want that.

Am I going to read the third book? Yes, because I loved the first one, and I still really like the characters and the writing. Also, both the badly-written political intrigue and the crossdressing plotline are wrapped up at the end of this book. But I’d like to pretend The Girl in the Tower didn’t happen.

My rating: ★★★

3 thoughts on “Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

  1. I enjoyed this one a lot more than you did, but I still lowkey agree with everything you say. I think I willed myself into loving it, even though it’s not nearly as good as the first book. I’ve never liked crossdressing as a plotline, but I didn’t realize things like naked reveals are transphobic. So thanks for educating me on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That happens to me too, sometimes. It took me a while to understand what wasn’t working for me here exactly; the writing is still great and I like the characters, but it wasn’t enough.
      I discovered the problematic aspects of that kind of scene this May, when two books that had one (Noteworthy and Flame in the Mist) came out, and many people on twitter were talking about that. It felt off to me before, but I didn’t think of all the bad implications as I do now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Writing and characters are the most important thing to me, which is probably why I was able to ignore that the plot just wasn’t that interesting. The first book had all three though, so hopefully the next one will be back on that level.

        I must have missed that conversation, though I do remember some talk about other issues in Flame in the Mist.

        Liked by 1 person

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