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 nearer, 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 Nightingaleby Katherine Arden
Spellbinding from the first page, The Bear and the Nightingale by debut author Katherine Arden is atmospheric and gripping. Ms. Arden has created a sterling cast of characters--from Vasya, the vibrant, fierce, dauntless heroine, to her devoted, but torn father to the tortured priest. Vasya's family life and relationships draw the reader emotionally deep into the story. The setting of medieval Russia is so expertly crafted that the reader can practically feel the frost and famine of winter. Because early Russian history and folklore is relatively unknown, the direction of the story was utterly and deliciously unpredictable. Be prepared to stay up reading late into the night!
The only stumbling block in this near-perfect narrative is the conclusion. While neat and tidy tie-ups are not necessary (and occasionally disappointing), there does need to be enough author direction for a reader to confidently draw their own conclusion. If a reader has to re-read the last few pages several times, as was the case here, and still is left with an unsettled feeling (when this is not a clear set-up for a series), then the author has been too light-handed in wrapping things up.
Nevertheless, The Bear and the Nightingale is one of the most brilliant and fresh works of fantasy to come along in a long time. Loved every word! This is a must read for fantasy and fairy tale lovers.
Review of an Electronic Advance Reader's Copy
Profanity/Language: 4 religious exclamations; 1 mild obscenity.
Violence/Gore: Stories about death-god coming for bad children and freezing them in the night; stories/folk tales told in which people die; woman is advised to abort a baby; report of death; father whips young daughter for disobedience; threat/promise to kill; grab someone by the throat; threat at knife point, drawing blood; various threats to kill/harm; report that harm and accidents come to travelers on a road; mythical creature said to have an appetite for flesh; mother beats teenage daughter with a switch; report someone died in the night, gnawed bones found in bloody snow; wound on animal stitched up (non-graphic); head is hit on hearthstone; man strikes teenage girl across the face; character is attracted to another character and thinks on it; pig is slaughtered for food and blood drained; father beats his teenage girl; talk of war; various animals disappear and blood/bodies found; woman struck across face by man; character has a frightening experience (not detailed), eventually dies; character allows mythical creature to take some of her blood for strength (non-detailed); mythical creature attempts to harm a human, stopped by magic (blood incorporated); character dies of age; gruesome scene ~2 pages with description of blood and gore involving a dead/decaying body; report of fire and death; frightening scene; animal has throat ripped out and character holds its head in her lap, blood mentioned; characters try to take a character against their will and there is a struggle and pursuit; frightening scene of pursuit; 1-2 page frightening dream; extended, multi-page battle scene involving mythical creatures and humans, some blood and gore, injuries and death, and a creature drinking blood.
Sex/Nudity: Reference to a man having a young lover; wife and husband embrace; engaged woman worries about being "lord's breeding sow"; reference to harlot; young man is said to be dallying with the serving women; man remembers his wedding night (non-detailed); stated that a groom took his wife to bed every night (no description); general reference that someone will not take concubines or ravish; passing statement that wife finds husband gentle but insistent; reference to a marriage being consummated; mythical female creature is naked; engaged teenager wonders briefly about being with future husband (non-detailed); report individual has illegitimate children; betrothed forces a kiss and feels girl's body (including girls upper body - brief), attention is unwanted; character dreams of kissing another; sister and brother joke about male virgins; character is attracted to another; character held by another (semi-platonic?); kiss on forehead; characters kiss.
Mature Subject Matter:
Death of a family member, religion, pagan beliefs/gods, politics, corporal punishment, women rights (lack of), famine, prejudice, gossip.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Mead offered as a gift; characters drink alcoholic beverages; characters drink mead.
Reviewed By Cindy