“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.” (via Goodreads)
The concepts of feminism and equity don’t exist in Vasya’s world, but she believes in them anyway. She will not kneel for a man, nor will she permit a man to force her to kneel. She will make her own destiny and push back against those who would stop her. Yet Arden never stereotypes her down to a Strong Female Character. Vasya’s extreme reactions are in direct proportion to her extreme circumstances. As a high-ranking woman, her only options are the terem to live out her days as a broodmare for some dull boyar or the convent to grovel to the new god and reject the old ones. By rejecting both, she’s declared a witch and her life is suddenly forfeit, but she still will not be cowed…
The rest of my review of The Girl in the Tower is up at Tor.com.
Moscow, just past midwinter, and the haze of ten thousand fires rose to meet a smothering sky. To the west a little light lingered, but in the east the clouds mounded up, bruise-colored in the livid dusk, buckling with unfallen snow.
Two rivers gashed the skin of the Russian forest, and Moscow lay at their joining, atop a pine-clad hill. Her squat, white walls enclosed a jumble of hovels and churches; her palaces’ ice-streaked towers splayed like desperate fingers against the sky. As the daylight faded, lights kindled in the towers’ high windows.
A woman, magnificently dressed, stood at one of these windows, watching the firelight mingle with the stormy dusk. Behind her, two other women sat beside an oven, sewing.
“That is the third time Olga has gone to the window this hour,” whispered one of the women. Her ringed hands flashed in the dim light; her dazzling headdress drew the eye from boils on her nose.
Waiting-women clustered nearby, nodding like blossoms. Slaves stood near the chilly walls, their lank hair wrapped in kerchiefs.
“Well, of course, Darinka!” returned the second woman. “She is waiting for her brother, the madcap monk. How long has it been since Brother Aleksandr left for Sarai? My husband has been waiting for him since the first snow. Now poor Olga is pining at her window. Well, good luck to her. Brother Aleksandr is probably dead in a snowbank.” The speaker was Eudokhia Dmitreeva, Grand Princess of Moscow. Her robe was sewn with gems; her rosebud mouth concealed the stumps of three blackened teeth. She raised her voice shrilly. “You will kill yourself standing in this wind, Olya. If Brother Aleksandr were coming, he would have been here by now.”
Thanks to Del Reyfor sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.