Read a full summary of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden below. If you can’t remember what happened in The Girl in the Tower and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place. This recap was written by Teresa Schultz.
The story focuses on Vasya joining her sister Olga and brother Sasha in Moscow to figure out who’s behind a group of raiders destroying nearby villagers. Disguised as a boy, Vasya has more freedom to investigated and discovers a man claiming to be an emissary from the ruling Tatars demanding more money is also the leader of the raiders. Just before she’s able to tell the Crown Prince, her disguise as a boy is betrayed by a new friend, Kasyan, who turns out to be an impossibly old man hiding from Death (aka Morozko) with plans to take over Moscow. He wants Vasya for himself to help prolong his life. She fights back, only defeating him with the help of a ghost in her sister’s house who turns out to be her great grandmother, who escaped from Kasyan and went on to marry the then-Crown Prince. Morozko intermittently helps Vasya throughout this journey, and after a brief split when he admits a necklace he gave Vasya helps him live off her emotions for him, they confirm their love for each other, although Morozko still cannot be with her because then he would not be immortal. At the end, Vasya admits everything mystical that has happened over the past two books to her sister and brother. We’re left with questions about just who their grandmother really was.
what went down
- The book opens not long after the last events in the Bear and the Nightingale, but now we’re in Moscow at the house of Olga, Vasya’s sister. Olga has two children and is pregnant with a third and is waiting with several other nobel women on a cold winter’s night for her brother, Sasha the monk to return.
- The next morning Sasha finally returns with another priest who is deathly ill. Olga takes care of him and we learn he’s Konstantin, who tells Olga of her father’s death, and blames it on Vasya, who he claims is missing and presumed dead.
- Meanwhile, Sasha speaks with the Crown Priest and tells him of numerous burned villages where the raiders took some of the girls with them. Sasha argues that because of this, and stronger-than-they-realized generals, they cannot attack the Tatars right now.
- The Crown Prince at first objects, but when a boyar, Kasnya, shows up also claiming his village has been burned, they decide to go after the mysterious raiders that no one seems to have seen (and some think are demons).
- On the way to the boyar’s village, they come across several more that have been burned and find a few survivors, who tell a similar tale. The Crown Prince decides to go to Lavar, the monastery where he and Sasha lived as teens, and where they discover many more survivors have sought refuge.
- Just as they prepare to go back out again in hunt for the raiders, a horse approaches with a boy and several girls on it. The boy yells at the gates that he rescued the girls from the raiders and they’re now hot on their trail.
- After letting them in, Sasha realizes the boy is actually his sister Vasya. Welcome back to the story, Vasya!
- We then cut back to where we last left Vasya, having just left her family to travel the world but first stopping at Morozko. He’s a little upset with her, wondering why she just couldn’t stay safe with her family. She wants some comfort and a little of her dowry to help her on her way. After resting the night, she and Solovey set off, with Vasya pretending to be a boy.
- On her first night alone, a demon called Midnight visits her, saying someone asked her to check in on Vasiya (but not Morozko).
- After some adventures, Visya gets sick, and Morozko visits her again, taking her to safety and to get well. Morzko decides to give her a blade and teach her how to defend herself. There’s some flirting and he kisses her before disappearing.
- Vasya keeps traveling and stumbles upon one of the burned villages, where she learns three girls were stolen by the raiders. A house spirit gives her a piece of coal and says she should follow it to find the raiders.
- Sure enough, the coal takes her to a group of men, and she sees the three girls. Solovey creates a distraction, and Visya is able to take the three girls. The raiders give chase, though, and Visya ends up riding to the monastery where we first met her.
- Sasha is upset to see her dressed as a boy, but their cousin the Crown Prince Dimitrii, who thinks she is a boy, is excited and has her lead them back to the camp of raiders.
- A fight ensues and most of the raiders are killed, but Visya notices their leader is missing. She wants to keep seeking him, but the Dimitrii says they need to go back to Moscow.
- Back in Moscow, Sasha takes Vasya to their sister Olga, who’s also scandalized by what Vasya is doing. However, they decide she must keep up the act because the Crown Prince has already invited her to some festivities.
- When they go to dinner with the Crown Prince, Sasha and Vasya learn an emissary from the Tatars has come, demanding Dimitrii pay taxes he hasn’t paid in the past two years, plus more.
- The trio go to visit the emissary, and Visya is shocked to see that the emissary is actually the leader of the raiders. She tries to tell Sasha, but he doesn’t believe her.
- When she goes to bed at Olga’s, Visya is surprised to see a ghost. She then learns the next morning that her niece, Marya (aka Masha) can also see the ghost and other spirits.
- Vasya then takes Marya for an early morning ride on Solovey. While they stop to look at a mare, the emissary/raider leader shows up and starts confronting Vasya when Kasyan shows up, saving her.
- Vasya again runs into the emissary later that day and discovers he has bought the mare she was looking at, which he can’t get under control. She makes a bet that she can ride the mare within three hours, which she of course does. Her prize is the mare, but the emissary is not happy.
- Vasya tells Kasyan about her concerns about the emissary. He says he believes her, but they should wait until they can find more witnesses before going to the Crown Prince.
- Vasya and Olga argue yet again after her stunt with the mare, and Vasya decides she’ll leave the next night, but first she needs to tell the Crown Prince about the emissary. However, just before she does, Kasyan interrupts her, challenging her to a horse race the next morning.
- Morzoko then shows up at the dinner, and he and Vasya go for a walk. Morozko senses something weird going on in Moscow and there’s some more kissing before Morozko goes away.
- The next morning before the race, Kasyan stops by and acts weird, letting on he knows Vasya is actually a girl and starting to say something urgent before being interrupted.
- They go on with the race, and Kasyan shows up on a horse even more majestic than Solovey. The race is a tight one, but it looks like Vasya is going to win when….
- Kasyan tears her hood off just before they cross the finish line, letting her hair fall down and revealing her as a woman. He then gets kind of violent, grabbing Visya and ripping her clothes off to confirm to the crowd – including the Crown Prince – she’s a woman. The prince is livid and demands she be locked up at her sister’s house and has Sasha locked up in the monastery as well.
- Ogla is obviously upset, locks her sister up and threatens to disown her if they try to blame her as well. That night, the ghost and Morozko visit Vasya, telling her she needs to run away that night because something bad is coming.
- Morozko says he wasn’t able to come to Vasya’s aid that day because he was being kept out, and he now knows Kasyan is actually an old wizard who’s been hiding from death for some time.
- Vasya is concerned about running away in case Sasha and Olga suffer for it, and before she can do anything else, Kasyan visits her. She confronts him about being a wizard. He wants to marry her and threatens her if she doesn’t.
- She agrees out of concern for her siblings, and he then demands she put on a necklace. When he sees the blue jewel she wears for Morzoko (given to her in the first book), he becomes enraged and says Morozko made her his slave.
- Olga then goes into labor. It starts looking bad, and sure enough, Morozko shows up to escort Olga’s spirit. Vasya pleads with him, and he tells them both that it’s either Olga’s life or her baby’s. Olga says she’ll die, but Vasya is so upset that she manages to pull Olga back to live – and kills her baby. Olga orders Vasya to leave.
- Vasya runs and finds Morozko wanting to help her run away. She confronts him about the necklace, though, and he admits he made it so he could live off her emotions for him. She crushes the necklace and says she doesn’t want to be his slave.
- Meanwhile, Sasha is connecting the dots and figures out Kasyan is the one paying the emissary to burn down villages. Vasya then helps break Sasha out.
- They realize Kasyan is going to make his move that night to kill the Crown Prince and rush to the palace. They set off an alarm and a fight breaks out.
- Vasya goes first to the stables to get Solovey and decides to free Kasyan’s magical horse, which is now glowing. Turns out the horse is actually a firebird and flies away!
- Vasya then sees that Konstantin has kidnapped Marya and taken her to Kasyan, so she goes after them. Kasyan is pissed at her for ruining everything, so has decided to use Marya instead.
- Turns out he needs one of them to help sustain his life. However, the ghost from Olga’s house then shows up. The ghost is actually Vasya’s grandmother, Tamara, who had mysteriously showed up at the palace one day to marry the then-Crown Prince. We find out she had been married to Kasyan but ran away from him.
how did it end?
Vasya and Kasyan start fighting. She’s able to get Marya away, but because Kasyan’s life is locked to Tamara’s ghost, she can’t kill him. She then figures out he must have a jewel around his neck and when she destroys it, he dies. Although Kasyan is dead, a fire is growing and will soon destroy the city. Vasya knows she needs Morozko, who can bring snow and end the fire, but when she calls for him, she gets… Midnight.
Midnight notes that because she destroyed Morozko’s necklace, he can only walk among the dead now. Midnight also makes an odd mention of Tamara’s mother being happy that she’s at peace. Vasya figures she can find Morozko if she’s dying, so she walks into the fire and Morozko shows up, and she pulls him back with her. Snow falls, and the fire stops.
Morozko and Visya admit their love for each other, but Morozko says he can’t be alive and immortal, but he’ll be there with the wind and when men die. He also starts to tell her where her grandmother came from but is interrupted.
Vasya returns to her family and tells them the full truth, about her ability to see spirits, what really happened to their parents, etc. Olga is a little wary, but says that if this is true and her daughter can see the spirits as well, then she needs Vasya’s help to protect her from other evil doers who would try to use her.