Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey
Source: Paperback
Release Date: January 10th, 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

This book captivated me from the first page.

I’ve always been a sucker for fairy tales, and the Bear and the Nightingale is a beautiful, magical mix of Russian fairy tales set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia. It tells the story of a young girl named Vasya, the daughter of a Northern lord, who is too feisty and wild to fit the standard of young women at the time. The entire book spans the first sixteen years of her life, while she comes of age and comes to terms with her special ability to see the mythical creatures that protect her father’s lands.

This book is lovely and atmospheric; a perfect winter read for curling up in a heated blanket while the temperature drops outside.

The characters themselves were fascinating, from the spirited Vasya to the cruel (and sometimes kind) frost-demon, Morozko. The tense is third-person omnipresent, which is a unique way of being exposed to multiple thoughts and perspectives. Each character had their own voice and was intriguing in their own way.

The prose is beautiful and whimsical without being too purple, and it sweeps you along from beginning to end. I found myself unable to put this book down, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

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