[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]
This is the direct sequel to “The Bear and the Nightingale”, and resumes where the latter left off, following both Sasha and Vasya from that point onwards.
I’m a little torn about this book. While still calling upon Russian folklore and legends, these didn’t play as much of a part as they did in the first book, and I was a little disappointed to see them take the backburner. (Morozko was still here, but I don’t know if it was so good for him, all things considered when it comes to the ending.) Paradoxically, this time, I also liked that the focus shifted more towards city politics, with the characters having to grapple with ‘what consequences will our actions have in the grand scheme of things’, for instance Dimitrii re: the Golden Horde. And that, I think, ties into one of the big themes of the story, a.k.a it’s well and all to want your independence, but finding ways to achieve it with minimum damage should be part of your focus as well.
It followed that I liked Vasya less in this second instalment. On the one hand, I sympathised with her plea of not wanting a life where she’d be locked up in the terem most of the year, and forbidden to do what she loved (riding Solovey, for instance) because ‘it didn’t become a woman’. Because not having a choice is the lot of most people, doesn’t mean we have to always accept it meekly without fighting (I mean, if everybody did that, we’d still work 14 hours a day and send children to the factory at 12 or something, I suppose); and that she’d see her niece doomed to the same kind of fate was painful. On the other hand, more than in the first volume, Vasya’s desire to travel and not live under restraint like her sister caused even more problems, likely because of the stupid ways she often approached this, and/or completely ignored any other character’s warnings. One extremely obvious example: if you aim at passing for a boy, cut your hair first thing, don’t just hide it under a hood. I think this is one detail that kept baffling me every time Vasya’s hair was mentioned, because it was so illogical to me. Getting giddy with the feeling of freedom and making mistakes? Okay, understandable. But other problems could’ve been avoided with a little common sense.
I’m interested in the third book, to see how all this will unfold, but I definitely hope Vasya will have learnt from her mistakes this time.