The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
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.
“Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.”
Picked up the second book of this series immediately after completing the Bear and the Nightingale. After the events of the first book, Vasya is left with the choice to either marry or live in a convent. She chose neither of those choices and embarked on her own journey to figure out who she is. In the midst of her journey she reunites with her brother Sasha and sister Olga. And of course, she encountered lots of adventure and is involved in the politics of Moscow.
There is an obvious switch from the usual folklore telling to a more politic-focused plot. I have mixed feelings on the characterization of Vasya. Firstly, I appreciate the fact that Arden attempted to create a strong female character who doesn’t want to be bound by traditional values and perspective. It was highlighted throughout the first book as well as the second book.
But in the midst of fighting for her own rights as a female in the medieval Russian setting, Vasya made a lot of wrong and stupid choices. Her relationship with Morozko, the frost demon, also left me puzzled. At some point of time, I think that their relationship is one sided as Vasya is sort of using Morozko to meet her own ends. When she is faced with a problem, she will just opt to summon Morozko and to rely on him to solve the problem. This doesn’t work for me. And it is not a bad thing either as it shows that Arden accepts that the flaws of a character and not to just blindly create a Mary Sue character. On the other hand, the relationship between Vasya and her horse Solovey works for me. I always enjoy reading interactions between human characters and animals (as I am a dog person).
All in all, this installment still deserves a 4/5 star rating from me. Moving on to the last book in this series right away!