Cover Image: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale

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Member Reviews

More than anything else, The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me of Naomi Novik's eastern European fairytale novels Uprooted and especially Spinning Silver. Although it's quite good, this book unfortunately suffers a little by the comparison -- Spinning Silver in particular was such a nearly perfect novel that not much rises to its level, but honestly, just coming close is a win for me.

Where really succeeds is with its atmosphere. Reading it, I got a tremendous sense of a time and a people right on the edge between the old and the new: the old gods and beliefs against the new Christianity, the old rural ways of life against newer more urban styles and norms, and northern Rus' culture against southern influence from Constantinople.

I struggled a bit early in the book with the different nicknames for the characters, but after a few chapters I got a better sense of who was who. The other relatively minor issue I had with this book was the fairly abrupt ending, leaving so much unresolved. Even knowing that this is the first book of a trilogy, I'd have liked a little more resolution at the end, to make me feel like this book had come to an end, rather than just a convenient point to break the story.

Again, those are minor quibbles. Over all, this was a tremendous book, and I'm already diving in to the sequel.
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I really couldn’t get into it. I didn’t finish it. There are similar books out there that I enjoyed a lot more.
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In some ways, I’ve always been looking for a book like this.

A book about Russia that doesn’t just paint its people into simple lines of (evil) communist spies or . . . well mostly the spy thing. Don’t get me wrong, Cold War Russian agents facing off against British or American heroes is compelling drama, but it should not be the only story we read. Nor can the revolution against a corrupt monarchy be the only story either. As Arden proves in The Bear and the Nightingale, there is so much more to tell.

Set in medieval Russia, The Bear and the Nightingale explores a host of different themes but the two main arguments seem to take place around gender roles and religion vs folk tradition. The world Arden sets up is a kind of living fairytale in which gods and monsters are real, and can be both cruel and kind depending on their whims. It provides an absolutely enchanting backdrop in which to explore her ideas and opinions.

The amount of research she did to bring such a world to life is absolutely astounding. I’m sure that my knowledge of Russian folklore was about the same as most casual readers when I began The Bear and the Nightingale, pretty much zero. I had heard of the Baba Yaga (and her chicken footed house), and had an idea of some kind of a powerful winter spirit from my own family’s tradition of putting “Father Frost” or Ded Moroz on the top of our Christmas tree each year. Arden’s Morozko seems to come from another legend, but the two appear to have a lot in common.

But before reading this book, I had never heard of a Domovoy, or a Bannik, or any of the other spirits we meet in the households of Lesnaya Zemlya. The more I read, the more I found myself wishing I could peep into the fireplace and catch a Domovoy hiding there, waiting for bread (although I’m not sure I’d want a Bannik anywhere near my shower hahah).

Of course, once the initial wonder at the setting wore off (although I don’t think it really ever did), there is a great cast of characters who grab your attention and do not let it go. I enjoyed seeing just how deeply Pyotr Vladomirovich cared for his family, but how impossible his choices were in the face of a society that only allowed his daughters to occupy very specific roles. Of course watching Vasya grow, and uphold the folk traditions was incredible and I’m excited to see more of her in The Girl in the Tower. Lastly, I found Konstantin to be a compelling and relatable villain.

My only disappointment in the novel was that (of course) the church had to be bad, stamping out the folk traditions in a way that just felt too easy and straightforward. Interestingly, Arden seems to set up the concept and possibility of Dvoeverie, or dual-belief, in her version of medieval Russia. She says in an interview for BookPage:

“We also examined the notion that Slavic paganism never really disappeared from the Russian countryside after the arrival of Christianity; rather they coexisted, with some friction, for centuries. I was fascinated by the tensions inherent in such a system, as well as the notion of a complicated magical world interacting so subtly with the real one.”

https://www.bookpage.com/interviews/20813-katherine-arden-fiction/
But ultimately, while I felt she did present the ‘friction’ well, I don’t believe she really ever allowed the two to coexist in the way she claims they did. We’re very quickly aligned with Vasya as the main character, and father Konstantin, and the church, as villains. I guess I just wanted to see that dual-belief actually exist.

So . . . recommend?
Yes! Whole heartedly yes. A quick search reveals Bear and the Nightingale to have been nominated for, and won several awards back in 2017 (won Amazon’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017, and nominated for Goodreads Best Fantasy 2017, and Goodreads Best Debut 2017).

All of these awards are well deserved. I’m anxiously looking forward to starting the next book in the series, The Girl in the Tower.

Anyway, that’s all for now! Have you read this one? What where your thoughts? What’s your favorite creature from Russian mythology! Please leave your answers in the comments.
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An entrancing fairytale. Very enjoyable, really sweeps you off your feet and deposits you in a wintry setting. I look forward to digging in to the next two eventually.
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Truly love the retelling of fairy tales -  Arden creates a magical world that made me want to visit!  It is a great read.  It is especially a good read for a cold winter's night.
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It took several attempts to get into this book. It was slow at times. The second half was much better than the first. I will probably not read the other two in the series.
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Loved this title. It's so unique among other things that I've read in that in focuses on Russian folklore, and I absolutely loved reading about pre-Bolshevik Revolution Russian. It was especially fascinating to read about a time when people were transitioning from strong traditions based on folklore into Christianity, specifically Catholicism. I've since read the second book in the series, but not the third yet. Definitely recommend this for fans of fantasy or magical realism - especially in a locale not often explored in my experience.
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A well written book that I definitely recommend to library patrons, though I personally struggled to get into it.  It's well received by many.
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Overall I enjoyed reading this book. It did take me a while and I struggled staying motivated to get back to it several times, which made for a long period from start to finish. It is an interesting novel that weaves in fairytales with the story of a young girl as she grows up. There were a few times where I just wasn't completely taken with certain chapters and then I didn't pick it up again for a while. I finally did finish it and enjoyed the story overall. It is not a book that I would read again, but once was good and interesting. The author was very good and painting a beautiful picture of the setting and I believe that was the most enjoyable part of the book for me. I just never really got into any of the characters, but the style of writing was nice and wonderfully descriptive.
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Unfortunately, the latter parts of The Bear and the Nightingale shear away much of what I loved about its beginning and middle. Some of this looks like the required structural work of setting up sequels — sequestering important characters elsewhere and never revisiting them — but some of it is unnecessary hewing to the most common shape of fantasy stories. Ultimately, it felt like a collection of beautiful plot coupons the book refused to cash in.
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A must for lovers of romance and myth. I was quite taken by all the magical creatures and felt for them because their way of life was fading; things were changing and the fey could not change as well as the humans could. Vasya ws on the brink of womanhood, with one foot in childhood and fairy stories and one in adulthood, where she would be locked away by womanly duties.
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THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is a beautifully moving, epic story that tackles religion, faith, and who exactly is good and evil. The sharp cold of medieval Russia comes to life with glittering prose, and Vasilisa is a compelling, layered lead character.
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So I heard great things about this book hence me downloading it.  I felt kind of let down though because I truly struggled through this book.  I was very confused through out the book because each character had three or more names, there were time jumps without notice and new characters were inserted at random.  These things made for a very rough read for me.  I did love the idea behind the book because I love all things folklore and mythological but the rest of the stories issues kept me from loving the book completely.

I would love to try again with another book by this author but this one was not for me.
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I loved the feel of this book, very fairy tale with lyrical writing. The main character was strong and worked hard to fight for herself and her family. I cannot wait to read the next book!
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I somehow neglected to give feedback on this at the time and I apologize, but this book was just lovely! I think the best way to describe it would be lucious, it just has that way of weaving description and plot together that pulls you in. The characters are brilliantly sculpted and build your investment in the story. Fairy tales have a universal appeal but can be difficult to put your own spin on, but Arden succeeds here with an entrancing book that I quite enjoyed.
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This book is amazing. The descriptions of winter in Russia are so lush that I was chilly reading it. I loved being able to learn more about various "minor myths" in Russian mythology as well as the extended focus on Morozko, Father Frost. Vasya is a fantastic protagonist and her view of Orthodox Christianity as it swept through Russia is one that I think is often overlooked. 
Highly recommend for folks looking for an engrossing fantasy read, those who are interested in the spread of Christianity and its effect on local customs and beliefs, those interested in Russian folk and fairy tales, and folks looking for strong feminist leads in historical fiction.
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This was just about the best Russian folklore inspired book I've read. And I have read a LOT. Highly reccomend.
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Absolutely loved this series. The imagery is rich, the world building is phenomenal and the characters...complex, interesting and I fell in love with a horse. Cannot wait for her next series.
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I can't say enough about this wonderful book. It is a dark fairy tale set in medieval Russia, full of Russian folklore. It's an absolutely perfect winter read. Vasya is a wonderful heroine who has the ability to see and communicate with house spirits and demons. The villagers do not trust her. There is great evil in the forest that threatens her family and the village. This novel is so magical and imaginative and the writing is lyrical. I absolutely loved it and ordered the second in this series immediately upon finishing.
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This book will be the start of a beautiful, engaging, fast-paced and fascinating trilogy. A really great, historical, somewhat epic fantasy, inspired by the history and folk and fairy tales of Eastern Europe.
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