After adoring the first book in this trilogy I didn't think I could love it any more...I was wrong. There's so much character growth throughout the novel, with all the characters. Vasya somehow becomes even more courageous, she's such an incredible protagonist. The new characters introduced I also really enjoyed reading about. Particularly Dimitrii Ivanovich, the Grand Prince of Moscow. It was interesting to see how he perceived Vasya both when she was in disguise and when she wasn't. He didn't get an awful lot of page time but was presented very well in the time that he did get. He was clearly a young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders but he rose to a challenge and didn't back down. I respected that. What I didn't like was again his attitude towards women, an attitude that seems to be the general consensus in the Mid Fourteenth Century. Yet again, another reason why I love Vasya. She doesn't allow her gender to define how she lives her life.
In comparison to the first book there was no where near as much magic, it was focused far more on both court and gender politics. I didn't mind that because I love political intrigue within fantasy novels but occasionally I fund myself missing the whimsy the first novel had.
Now for the Spoiler-y section...
If you haven't read this series yet then I warn you now. Spoilers ahead.
Following the aftermath of the first novel Vasya decides that a life as a traveller would suit her better than a convent or marriage. She struggled and had to ask for help every now and again from the Winter King, which he willingly gave but she did it. I love how complex their relationship is and I can't wait to see how it develops in the final book. The last scene with the two of them in the fire, my god. I was weeping. It was so beautiful.
One of my favourite things about this novel is how certain people can speak to the horses. It adds another layer to the novel and makes the horses more than just 'props' they become another character. Solovey is such a delight. Even when he isn't able to directly communicate with people you can imagine how he would respond, simply because of how consistent his characterisation is.
OLGA AND SASHA. I loveeeeeeed seeing how Vasya interacted with her siblings all these years later and how things had developed. Both Olga and Sasha, like Vasya, changed dramatically but still had a lot of love for their sister. For the most part. The scene in which Olga gives birth to a stillborn child was harrowing, I again was weeping about this. It wasn't just the fact that she lost the child but also how awful Vasya felt about it. It broke my heart.
Overall, this is another incredible book. Katherine Arden is now an auto buy author for me.