I need to remember when it comes time to read #3 in this series that I will need at least a week to get through it. Arden’s writing is lovely and her story fascinating and absorbing, but I find it stressful as hell, and I kept having to put it down before I could keep going again. Basically every bad thing that can happen, does. (But by the end, you get a nice sense of resolution, which is necessary because of all the previously mentioned stress.)
Part of the reason it’s so stressful is that Arden is so good at immersing you in everything that’s going on, especially the setting. You feel like it’s bitter cold, that you will never be warm again. You feel the crowded city streets with the unwashed bodies, and the bathhouses and women’s rooms and the doorways and stoves peopled with tiny, household spirits with manky beards and pointed faces. When Vasya has something bad happen to her, it’s happening to you, too. And a lot of bad things happen to Vasya in this book.
It picks right up from where we left off last book, with Vasya being exiled from her village, her father and stepmother newly dead, and she herself being hounded with rumors of witchcraft. She and Solovey slip off into the night to see the world and have adventures. Only, things get in the way. Other people’s actions, and Vasya’s own desires as well. She becomes even more embroiled with Morozko the frost demon, as outside bandits are burning village after village to the ground, and stealing the villages daughters. Vasya has disguised herself as a boy, and insinuates herself accidentally into the royal favor or the Crown Prince of Moscow, an incredibly precarious place not only for herself, but for her family as well, who have felt they have no choice to go along with her immodest lies.
Vasya is such a great character. She’s a wild spirit living in a time that was exceptionally hard for all women, but especially hard for those like Vasya who have an innate need to be free. While Vasya runs wild in the forests with Solovey, fighting like a boy and rescuing girls, racing horses and drinking with the lords of Moscow, her sister Olga is locked up in a tower with all the other noble women. Olga has done what she was asked even if she didn’t like it, and Vasya has not. But what’s great about Vasya is she isn’t selfish about it. It’s a constant battle inside her to be free, but not to abandon those who need help, or who she owes debts to, or loves.
I’m excited and wary to see how this series turns out. I won’t be surprised if I come out of reading that book with a few new white hairs on my head.