Author: Katherine Arden
Series: The Bear and the Nightingale #1
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Release Date: January 17th 2017
Book Length: 332
Publisher: Del Rey
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.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fantasy book you will never forget, it’s a fantastic mix of Russian folklore, culture and history.
Vasya is a wild and untamed child much to her father’s dismay; her father feels that what Vasya really needs is a new mother. However Vasya is no ordinary child simply playing games with imaginary friends, in fact Vasya has inherited the gift of ‘sight’ from her Grandmother. The old fairy-tales that are told to misbehaving children are actually real so with the aid of magical creatures Vasya's soon able to explore her gifts. But when a rumor spreads that the evil Bear from the woods may be awakening at long last, who will be able to save Vasya’s village from a darkness people refuse to believe is real? Vasya is an incredible main character, I absolutely loved her wild and fierce nature.
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
The Bear and the Nightingale takes place over a number of years, which gives the reader time to actually watch Vasya grow into a young woman. Arden elegantly weaves Russian folklore into the plot, I was thrilled to have the famous ‘Baba Yaga’ mentioned, and sadly that’s about the extent of my knowledge of Russian fairytales. I felt the pacing of the book was a little slow at times causing the plot to lag, but Arden has such a lyrical way of writing that you don’t find yourself bored but merely eager for what happens next. Nevertheless the pacing soon picks up once the Frost-Demon from the woods is introduced and who just happens to have plans for Vasya.
“He is full of desire. Desire and fear. He does not know what he desires, and he does not admit his fear. But he feels both, strong enough to strangle.”
The last 100 pages of the book are the best, Vasya and her magic become the focus of the book and you get a much clearer picture of what Arden has is store for her readers. This book is part of a series and I have no doubt that book two will grip readers from the start. I was hugely impressed by just how much research Arden must have done in order to create Bear, it’s brimming with facts and details of so many aspects of Russian culture; the work has most definitely paid off!
I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to this book, there’s just so much history, religion, characters, and back-story surrounding Vasya and her little village. Then again I feel it’s always best to dive into a new book not knowing too much and let your imagination take over. The Bear and the Nightingale is a truly stunning read with a focus of Russian folklore and fantasy fans are in for a real treat, I cannot wait for Book 2!