A satisfying conclusion to a trilogy set in medieval times in the area on the verge of becoming Russia.
In a luxuriously detailed yet briskly suspenseful follow-up to The Bear and the Nightingale (2017) and The Girl in the Tower (2018), Arden's historically based fantasy follows heroic Vasya—a young woman with a strong connection to the spirits of the place where she lives—as she attempts to save her family and her country from evil forces. Because the novel starts with a bang where the preceding volume left off, with Moscow nearly burned to a crisp by a Firebird imperfectly controlled by Vasya, readers are advised to backtrack to the two earlier books rather than attempt to sort out all the characters and backstory on the fly. Among the humans are Vasya's sister, Olga, compromised by her desire for wealth and position; her brother, Sasha, a monk with a taste for the military life; Grand Prince Dmitrii; and corrupt priest Konstantin. Among the inhuman are the warring brothers Morozko, the winter-king with whom Vasya conducts a conflicted romance, and Medved, a demon addicted to chaos. Arden keeps the narrative fresh by sending Vasya questing into fantastic realms, each with its own demanding set of rules and its own alluring or forbidding geography, and by introducing new “chyerti,” demons or spirits, including an officious little mushroom spirit who indiscriminately plies Vasya with fungi, some edible and some distinctly not. Fans of Russian mythology will be pleased to find that Baba Yaga puts in a cameo appearance to straighten out some of the complicated genealogy. The trilogy leads up to the Battle of Kulikovo, which many consider the beginning of a united Russia. Arden neatly establishes parallels between Vasya's internal struggles, between attachment and freedom or the human world and the spiritual one, for example, and those taking place in the world around her.
A striking literary fantasy informed by Arden's deep knowledge of and affection for this time and place.