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review 2018-03-07 16:35
The Girl in the Tower
The Girl in The Tower - Katherine Arden

[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.

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review 2018-02-18 00:00
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden 4.5 stars...

The only reason I didn't give it the full 5 stars is because I don't think we as the readers are given a complete enough background on the the Russian fairy tales, their characters, and the second sight (we're told they see demons), so I felt like I was trying to piece things together more then what should be necessary toward the beginning. There is a dictionary at the end which of course was a little too late in coming for me. It would have been nice to have that at the beginning.

*I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads FirstReads giveaway but my review is solely my own. Thank you Goodreads!
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review 2018-02-18 00:00
The Girl in The Tower
The Girl in The Tower - Katherine Arden I loved this second book! I thought it was better then the first. I read the dictionary after book one and had a much clearer understanding of the fairytale characters.
I enjoyed the storyline and the part Vasya played in this book a little more too. I'm looking forward to reading book three to see if Vasya finds her way and a place in her world.

Note: There's also a dictionary at the end of this book. It's not as necessary as it was in book 1 but I still recommend reading it first.
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text 2018-02-01 16:26
January Reading
Jane, Unlimited - Kristin Cashore
My Conversations with Canadians - Lee Maracle
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story - Martin Luther King Jr.
Swallowing Mercury - Wioletta Greg,Wioletta Grzegorzewska,Eliza Marciniak
 Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder - A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science - James Mahaffey,Keith Sellon-Wright
Sweet Disorder - Rose Lerner
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner - Daniel Ellsberg
Winter Rose - Patricia A. McKillip
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

Eleven books read:

Jane, Unlimited - Kristin Cashore

My Conversations with Canadians - Lee Maracle  

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story - Martin Luther King Jr.  

Swallowing Mercury - Wioletta Greg, Eliza Marciniak  

Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder - James Mahaffey

Someone To Love - Mary Balogh (DNF)

Sweet Disorder - Rose Lerner  

The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden 

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner - Daniel Ellsberg  

Winter Rose - Patricia A. McKillip  

A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin  

 

Women Writers Bingo: 3/25

(Personal take: Finish 25 books by new-to-me female authors in 2018*)

Finished in January: Wioletta Greg, Rose Lerner, Katherine Arden

 

Gender Balance:

Fiction: 7 by women, 0 by men, 0 by non-binary

Non fiction: 1 by women, 3 by men, 0 by non-binary

 

Format:

Paper books that I own: 0

Paper books from library: 5

E-books that I own: 1

E-books from library: 1

Audiobooks that I own: 4

 

February Goals:

1. Finish reading for Hugo Award nominations (Jade City, Prey of the Gods, Winter Tide).

2. Read at least one book for black history month

3. Stop ordering fucking library books.

 

 

*Women Writers Bingo Bonus Points:

5 of those books in translation: 1/5 (Swallowing Mercury)

5 of those books are non-fiction: 0/5

 

Bingo Companion Round:

5 books by non-binary authors: 0/5

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review 2018-01-24 17:47
Incredibly Frustraiting!
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

This book had a singular genius in regards to managing to hint at something I found really interesting, and then make the story about something else. Incredibly time and place specific court politics? Oh yeah, that's happening in Moscow, and we're stuck in the woods. Subverting fairy tales? The author will cordially nod at subversion across the room and then go full steam ahead with unsubverted fairy tales. Clash between pagan and Christian beliefs, exploring the world views of both? Nope, it's pure sweet pagans v. evil leach priests.

 

This is basically the story of a pure pagan witch who is persecuted by her evil step mother and by the town's corrupt priest who has the hots for her and punishes her for his own lust. If you think that sounds like a plot that blew in from the 1980s, oh boy you're right! The only characters who got the least hints of personality moved to Moscow about five chapters in, and were never seen again. Everyone else were more or less types swept along in story logic. Why did the towns people abandon their very helpful gods to switch to a new fake religion? Because the hot priest told them to! Why did no one give the magical talisman to the heroine until the eleventh hour, despite five hundred warnings of the dire consequences of not doing so? Because the plot demanded a draggy middle section, and the storytelling wanted her to be as poorly informed as possible. Why were almost all threats to the heroine sexually charged? Because realism or something. Probably.

 

The writing itself could be very beautiful, but reading it in a long stretch made me realise how hard the author was leaning on a few tricks and a basket of repeated phrases. Everything was "as sure footed as a stag" or "soft as a cat." The word "suddenly" was used once a paragraph in all action scenes. (I may have been at the "I'm so annoyed at this I'm going to pick nits phase" by the end there.) The pacing was also all over the place, but I blame first novel.

 

Mostly though I'm too old and too tired for stories about wicked stepmothers (unless it's from their point of view for the whole story, and then by all means proceed!) And trying to make this one simultaneously sympathetic and still evil in a very specific gendered way only made the character's lack of salvation seem really petty on the part of the author. It reminded me of this analysis of disproportionate death in Jurassic World. And then making the last quarter or so about the heroine feeling trapped by her lack of choice, while never actually giving her any choices didn't feel that well thought through either (nor the deus ex machina in the final battle). It felt very much like, "I'm not like those other girls who just love being married off to strangers or joining convents!" I'm guessing the main difference there is that those other girls don't have magic powers, and therefore have fewer choices, but the story never quite sees that either.

 

I was reading this for a book club, and I can't tell if I weren't reading it for that if I'd have bailed about 30% in or not. I might have kept going on grounds that a) I'd bought the book, b) I wanted to see if it really did manage to do anything more complicated or interesting than a straight up fairy tale. It kept hinting that it might. Then it didn't.

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