Review: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden


Fear, a very powerful and ultimately destroying force.  Will it be stopped?

25489134Title:  The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fantasy
Story Setting: Deep in the north of Russia, Moscow—a time when sprites and legends lived
Pages: 336
Published by: Del Rey
Published Date: January 10, 2017
ISBN-10: 1101885939
ISBN-13: 978-1101885932

Publisher’s Summary:

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.

My Thoughts:  This is one of those books whose tale you can’t possible confuse with another. The good news is the author is working on the second of the series, with a third sequel to follow.

It is set deep in the forests of Russia and the city of Moscow, a time in ages past where people still lived and believed in the old ways, seeped with mythological stories, even though Christianity had been introduced 500 years previous.  But ways change slowly, even more so in the isolated north.

This debut author, Katherine Arden, simply writes so spellbindingly, it is not one I could put down. She wraps her world in spirits, sprites and demons from mythology. Her story is easily understood and highly entertaining as well as educative for she goes into some depth about these legends.  I imagine she had to do a lot of research and she must be equally fascinated with it. Her style of writing fits these times of old, with its detail of dress, housing, rhythm of day activities, harshness of nature and legends of the people, to produce a rich, poignant and realistic journey.

Vasilisa, nicknamed Vasya, is Marina’s last born. She is a special child with special power and were people to know her as she is, they would shun her, calling her witch. She loves nature, spends much of her time out near the water, in the forest, with the animals in the stable and talking to the wood-sprites, rusalka, the water-sprite of the lake, the house domovoi, who does mending and protects the house, the vodyanoy in the river, the polevik in the trees and so many more.

Pyotr Vladimirovich’s five children, Sasha, Kolya, Olga, Alyosha, and Vasya grow up with the legends of Russia as told by their nurse maid, Dunyashka. At the beginning of the tale, Dunyashka tells the story of Morosko, the demon of winter, the one who is there when someone dies in winter.

Lost in the woods when quite young, Vasya finds an old disfigured man sleeping under a gnarled, black, old oak tree.  The old man tries to encourage her to come closer, but suddenly a man garbed in rich robes of fur on a white mare, prevents the old man from touching her and commands him to sleep, for it is yet winter.

This scene is pivotal in the direction the story heads and instantly I knew these two men are to play a part in the telling. But certainly, I had no clue how.

Vasya’s father feels his youngest daughter very spirited, too free, she doesn’t listen to his words and he wearies of her. But he had promised his Marina, he would take care of her. It is time to take a second wife, hoping this will settle the girl. He still has connections in Moscow, his wife’s family. Ivan Ivanovich, his dear wife’s half-brother, is Grand Prince.

Pyotr, while in Moscow, is given a gift for his youngest daughter. She is to wear the necklace or have it near all the time. Pyotr, being an honorable man and obliged through his promise gives the necklace to Dunya, the old nursemaid, later to give to Vasya when she is older.

He marries, Anna, the Grand Prince’s sister, a mousey woman, scared of her own shadow.  She is to be Vasya and Alyosha’s mother. This is a gift Pyotr can’t refuse, even if he has doubts about this woman.  It would be insulting the throne.

Once back at Pyotr’s home, Anna, his new wife, seems slightly unhinged. She sees demons. The only place she doesn’t see them is in the church.  Therefore, she spends much time there. When Konstantin Nidonovich, a man of God, comes to Lesnaya Zemlya, life for the villagers and certainly for the Vladimirovich family changes. This man of God speaks with a silver tongue, putting fear into the people’s hearts, they must repent and worship the one true God.

I love it when a debut author connects with readers and she most certainly has.  I look forward to book 2!   Arden  doesn’t leave the reader not understanding the many Russian words for she includes a glossary.

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About eileendandashi

I am a lover of books, both reading and writing. 2018 marks the beginning of my own journey from writer to published author. This blog will showcase various authors' thoughts on the elements of novel crafting, and my attempts to find my voice in writing. While journaling this journey, I hope to encourage others to follow their dreams. Book reviews continue as I have the last four years, only making time for my new pursuits.
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