The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey on January 10, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 322 Format: Hardcover Source: Library
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.
Deep in the northern woods, Vasilisa and her family have a life filled with hard work and warmth despite the chilly weather, but all that changes when her father takes a new wife. With an affinity for books inspired by Russian folklore and history, I knew The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden would definitely make it onto my TBR. This was the perfect wintry read to curl up with as snowflakes overtake the grass and I felt just like Vasilisa and her siblings as the story unfolded.
Vasilisa is a strong willed force to be reckoned with both in the wilderness and at home by the hearth. Despite her fierceness, Vasya has moments of tenderness and her devotion to her family was so endearing. She definitely carries the story all by herself but the rest of the cast fit well in their roles. I’m particularly fond of her brothers Sasha and Alyoshka. Plus the priest Konstantin provided a multifaceted arc.
Honestly winter settings usually aren’t my favorite but the lush detail Arden provides pulled me deep into the fold. Each scene and character was fully fleshed out and could jump off the page. That goes for her use of history and fairytales as well, especially in regards to the rise of Christianity in Russia. After reading I actually had to look up Arden’s background and knowing she spent two years in Russian definitely explains the intense research.
Overall I really adored Vasilisa’s journey in The Bear and the Nightingale. It starts off slow but the story and characters are built up piece by piece. Arden captures Russian history and folklore in such a beautiful way and I couldn’t help but fall in love with every moment of this tale. I’d highly recommend this title especially to those with a love of fantasy and history. I’m so excited to see what comes next!
Do you plan to read The Bear and the Nightingale? Are you fascinated by Russian culture like I am? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!