I’ll say this, The Girl in the Tower nears perfection.
The Bear and the Nightingale was a fine novel, but I felt it was laying the groundwork for the setting and the characters. Whimsical magic was on full display, immersing the reader in a world that was likely very foreign to them, but it may have been too much. The result was a good story, but it didn’t quite have the cohesion that this follow-up does.
I’m not a big fan of Fantasy, but Arden sells me completely with The Girl in the Tower. The setting is as gorgeous as it was in the first book; the author really brings this frigid landscape to life. The characters are well defined. I especially love how Arden displays her protagonist as a strong woman, but one who still has some flaws. The language is engaging and navigable. The plot moves along at a great pace. With the characters well defined, the fairy tale established, and the story evolved, The Girl in the Tower is given the room to just be fabulous. It really does come close to being perfect.
Now here's where I deviate from the mainstream: I find action incredibly boring. I generally enjoy stories for their characters and their dialogue, sometimes their language or devices, but almost never for their action. When a fight breaks out, I tune out. (Strange, right?) That's exactly what happened when I reached the climax of this novel—my attention waned considerably. I stopped caring. It’s no fault of Arden or this novel—I’m the abnormal one—but its inclusion did leave me wanting. And if you’ve read either of the first two books in this series, then you likely know action plays a big part.
Even considering this one hiccup—something most readers would probably embrace—I felt The Girl in the Tower was one of the better stories I’ve read in the last few years. I cannot think of one Fantasy novel I’ve ever enjoyed nearly as much as this one. I’m already anticipating the third, but I may have to wait—novels such as these are best enjoyed when the windows are frost-touched.