Release and Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
Published: January 10, 2017,  Del Rey
Genre: Fantasy

A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

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.

It's been awhile since I totally immersed myself in the fantasy genre but I am so glad I jumped in with this book. This is a debut for this author and it will grab you up with visions of cold snowy nights and fairy tales beside the fire. The book takes place in medieval Rus' and the author has done an excellent job with her world building. The reader quickly becomes submersed in the life and hardships of hardy people living off a cruel land. 

This story brings us Vasilisa or Vasya, youngest daughter of a minor land owner. Word of mouth has it that Vasya's grandmother was something a bit "more". It appears as though Vasya may have inherited some of those abilities as well. What follows is not only her life story, but a commentary on what it was like for early Christians. What happens if people abandon the old ways of thinking in favor of this new all encompassing God? Who really has the power still to affect the lives of the common man? Vasilisa is a strong heroine and provides hope when all seems lost. 

This is an epic read spanning many years. What the author brings to the table though is so wrapped in Russian history and folklore that the reader can not help but get sucked into the tale. The story is imaginative and creative. I can easily picture an old grandmotherly woman passing on the story of Vasya and the Frost King to the next generation. 

Fantastic work by this new author. The story held my interest as well as giving me a learning opportunity. 

*Complimentary copy provided via Netgalley for an honest review.

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

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