The Bear and The Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
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Pub Date 12 Jan 2017 | Archive Date 03 Nov 2017
*The second book in the trilogy, The Girl in the Tower, is now available to request*
'Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.'
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods...
Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 248 members
I was lucky enough to be invited to read and review this book by the people at ebury publishing and I can't thank them enough for the privilege!
I swear one of them must be spying on me because they could not have picked a more perfect book for me. For as long as I can remember I have loved traditional fairy tales, myths, legends and folklore, from England and around the world. The Bear and the Nightingale is a rich, vibrant and colourful tapestry of Russian folklore.
After an encounter with the Winter King in Moscow, Pytor Vladimirovich is entrusted with a bejewelled necklace to give to his youngest daughter. If he doesn't, his son will lose his life. Feeling that he has no choice, Pytor takes the necklace but tasks his daughter's nanny with giving her the necklace instead of him. Dunya, the family nurse, is plagued in her dreams, having struck a bargain with the Winter King that the necklace will be in her custody until Vasya is considered a grown woman.
As the years pass Vasya, always a willful and precocious child, continues with her wild ways, often wandering alone in the woods by her home. Her stepmother and a Moscow priest are determined to bring about the new faith, meaning the spirits of the old traditions are being weakened as people's faith strays. Being privileged to physically see the guardian spirits of house and home, Vasya is their sole keeper, keeping them alive with continued offerings.
The Winter King puts continued pressure on Dunya to give Vasya his gift, and under the delusion that they are protecting her, her father Pytor and Dunya try to marry her off before sending her away. Without Vasya the guardians of the home and the village will fade and die.
This is an utterly compelling, spellbinding novel. As a debut, the author has certainly set a very high standard and The Bear and the Nightingale deserves nothing less than a 5 star rating.
A nice story for the winter - telling the tale of a feisty girl who defies the expectations of those around her to hold true to old traditions and come into her own power as a young woman. I enjoyed reading about Vasya and the other members of her family and the book is well written. The Russian landscape is well described, as are the harsh realities of survival during the long, cold spell. The folkloric elements are complex and have a dark and sinister side, which makes this, I'd say, definitely an adult read. All that said, there was nothing extraordinary about the story nor its unfolding, so I was surprised to find it attracted so many five stars.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Wow. I really enjoyed this book and didn't want it to end and have to leave the lands of northern Rus, with its snow and forest villages. The Bear and the Nightingale (the name will soon become clear to you) is beautifully written with unique and immersive descriptions of the chilly, frosty, northern Russian wilderness. It's a mixture of historical fiction/ fairytale for grown ups, with its lyrical writing about Russian folklore, old gods, princes, witches and subtle nods to magic. I had read it is perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus and so was very excited to read this book.
I have to say I was hooked from the get go. The writing is hauntingly beautiful and so descriptive. Remember how as a child fairly tales would give you the tingles and make you feel as if you had been touched by magic? Well, all of those memories, and all the spine tingling magic I felt as a child, were brought back while reading this book. With the descriptions of the snowy cold forests, this would be a great book to read in winter, while curled up with a hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire.
The story is based around a girl called Vasilisa or Vasya, the youngest in a line of Boyar's - a minor member of the old Russian aristocracy. Her grandmother was a mysterious girl, who one day emerged out of the forest on the back of a horse and in through the Kremlin gates, but from where she came exactly, no one knew.
Rumours were whispered that she held strange powers. Vasya, is a girl who is different to other children, and her mother, Marina, may also have held more powers than anyone thought.
I did start this expecting it to eventuate into a love story, but was pleasantly surprised to instead find a book filled with fairytale creatures, majestic animals and a story rich in folklore and mythology.
Katherine Arden is an author going immediately onto my watchlist. I adored her writing style, full of atmosphere and layers, she can spin magic with her words, and any writer who can evoke old feelings of wonder back to adults, is a special kind of author.
Thank you to Netgalley, Random House Ebury Publishing and Del Rey for the Arc in exchange for an honest review.
This debut novel by Katherine Arden had me hooked from start to finish. Her love of Russian and Russian literature is woven throughout this enchanting and lyrical fairy-tale for grown-ups. Captivated and bewitched by the imagery and I felt much as Vasya does when the Frost King tells her of his birth “the quiet, crystalline words dropped into her mind and she saw the heavens making wheels of fire, in shapes she did not know, and a snowy plain that kissed a bitter horizon, blue on black”.
Set far in the North of old Rus’ this is a tale of the conflict between country lore and Church and the steadfast heart and bravery of a young girl, Vasilisa Petrovna. Vasilisa is the youngest of Pyotr Vladimirovich’s five children an ugly little girl, skinny as a reed-stem with long-fingered hands and enormous feet. Her eyes and mouth are too big for the rest of her and her nickname is frog. But even before she was born her mother knew this child would be different, would be special…magical even; and so Marina gave up her own life in childbirth that little Vasya might be born.
Vasya sees the wood spirits, the house domovoi and the spirit of horses -the vazila; but her new step-mother Anna sees only demons and prays feverishly for deliverance. The one day it seems that Anna’s prayers are answered for the Regent of Moscow has seen fit to send Father Konstantin to the frozen North. Konstantin is devout, spiritual and charismatic. He paints exquisite Icons and charms the village with his beguiling voice. Determined to save their souls he places fear deep in their hearts to turn them from their old superstitions. Soon the whole village is doing his bidding and the little domovoi and vazila are starving and weakened. But Vasya does not turn, these creatures are not myths and mere names to her for they have taught her much and she is determined to nourish them. The horses particularly speak to her and have taught her to ride as one with them, without saddle or bridle and without the modest decorum a young woman should demonstrate. The winters are harder, longer and crueller than ever. The food runs short and the Frost-king is feared – but not as much as the other, the upyr – the dead walking and it is to the Frost King that Vasya must turn to save those she loves.
The story is far more detailed and complex than my brief summary suggests but to explain more would be to a travesty. Arden tells it so skilfully, not a word is wasted and I loved it. I shall be buying it for many of my friends and waiting on tenterhooks for her next novel.
4.5 foxes out 5
This book was generously provided as an ARC by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
I think my love for winter came from both being born in midwinter, and from spending my childhood in one of the coldest countries of the world. Very few novels are able to depict both winter’s magic (crackling fires, warm mittens, cinnamon spiced drinks) and its cruelty (hunger, frost-bitten fingers, wild winds). The Bear and the Nightingale was able to portray both, seamlessly.
A blend of Russian fairy-tales, with reminiscence of Uprooted and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, this book is evocative and haunting. Books like these, that effortlessly captures your hearts and lures you in, only come in a reader’s hands rarely.
In the space between one breath and the next, the wind told him a tale: of life and death together, of a child born with the failing year.
Vasya was born different. She is more wild than tamed, a dangerous thing to be in medieval Russia, when strange females were seen as witches. As cruel forces threaten her village, Vasya must use her courage to defeat the evil that threatens all she knows.
Blood is one thing. The sight is another. But courage—that is rarest of all, Vasilisa Petrovna.
Vasya was quite a character. One who refused to be imprisoned by society’s expectations of women, who refused to be caged, who found beauty in the wilderness of the forest, of winter, and of the cruel Winter-King.
The book also speaks about fear, and how easily we relinquish our freedom when we are afraid. This message gives the book a wonderfully darker tone, that kept me entranced the entire way though.
Each character had depth, from the fearful priest, to the mad stepmother. Even the spirits that roam the land are different, from the household spirits that help with chores (I would like three, please!) to the lake spirits that drown wayward travelers. Written compellingly, I will not soon forget that snowy Russian village near the forest, the Winter Demon, nor Vasya, the bravest of them all.
Let’s hope there will be sequel, shall we?
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Bronze Horseman *for another book set in Russia
Keturah and Lord Death
The Blue Castle *For a girl whose also wild at heart
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A wonderfully detailed read on the fairytales of old from Russia. A child born of power leaving her motherless, her father wanting her brought to heel takes a holy wife scared of demons who are spirits worshipped by well meaning villagers and maids alike, joining the household and not realising kinship with the girl instead she bemoans going from a crown princes daughter who wanted the cloisters to being a wife and stepmother. Soon she brings more religion to the villagers and when their priest dies a handsome, young and enigmatic priest is brought in. She clings to her faith and he using fear drives the spirits out laying the way for evil to slip in.
The child Vasya grows and slowly the priest takes note, the girl wilful and strong just longs for her family and people to be safe and well.
The tale is long and split into 3 parts and well worth the read.
When I saw the reviews begin to pour in, comparing this to Uprooted by Naomi Novik, I could barely contain my excitement. Uprooted is one of my favourite fantasy reads of all time. However I was skeptical. Could anything really be so utterly fantastic?
The answer is resoundingly yes. The Bear and the Nightingale showcases both immense writing talent and a boundless imagination from Katherine Arden. This is a truly impressive debut. Her careful and elaborate weaving of Rus' was worthy of even the most nimble fingered babushka. A world rich with people, places and magic makes a wonderous backdrop to the story of a girl who can see the fantastical.
Each character is beautifully realised, with both light and dark reflected in their creation. There is no simplicity, and as a result there is no straight path for them to follow. Just like in Uprooted, the forest is a character in itself; infecting and altering all those who come in contact with it. The duality is what made a character like Father Konstantin flawed and achingly human instead of monstrous, or our heroine Vasya alternately foolish and brave instead of infallible.
I cannot recommend this read highly enough. If you haven't been fortunate enough to get hold of an ARC then I would mark 12th January in your calendar. Katherine Arden is someone I will be watching very closely in the future; her work is like hot honey bread; to be savoured
What an intriguing and delightful book! This didn't turn out to be the book I thought I was reading, but it was actually much better than what I thought it would be. Not a typical fantasy novel, the book is filled with beautiful and creative fairy tales, weaved into Russian history.
The book is beautifully written, and with the approach of winter on it's way, it was easy to get wrapped up and imagine yourself in the cold with the characters. I really enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it.
I read this book in four giant gulps, completely swept into the dangerous, frozen, world of Vasya and northern Rus’. Arden cleverly and subtly weaves Russian folklore into a novel about choice and action and how humans interact with the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ worlds around us. Vasya is the youngest daughter of a minor noble, born because her mother wanted a daughter like her mother, and she is left mostly to her own devices in the frozen wilderness of her home until her father marries Anna Ivanovna, daughter of the Grand Prince. Anna and Konstantin, the new priest, bring the village into conflict between the old household guardians (the domovoi) and the nature spirits (rusalka or water-nymphs, vazila or stable-spirits) and Christianity. The two have coexisted peaceably until now but Anna thinks of her ability to see the domovoi as a sign that she is cursed by the devil, and the combination of that and the disgruntled active priest signals hard times to come for the villagers as they lose the protection of their traditional guardians.
Vasya is a wonderful protagonist; she is headstrong and intensely loyal and she refuses to bend to be different and more amenable. Her father and siblings appreciate and respect this but she’s too wild and untameable for Anna. Arden very clearly shows how people want to pit Vasya against Irina – Anna and Vasya’s father’s daughter – and also shows how Vasya refuses to comply with this. She and Irina aren’t in competition, they are sisters and they love each other fiercely. Fierce love is the key to this beautiful novel; Vasya’s love for her people and her family and her land is what will save everyone.
Also, if you were ever a horse obsessed child or adult, this book delivers horse appreciation in spades.
The Bear and the Nightingale
You know there are those books you fly through because you are enjoying them so much and then you suddenly realise that you wish with all your heart that you had read them slower because they were just so wonderful? This book is one to add to that number. It was an utter delight!
I guess it is because there is a seam of slavic blood running through my veins as thick as your arm, that made a tale of old world charm set in Russia about a feisty young heroine who places family above all so attractive to me. This is chock full of just the sort of lore and myths that make my little heart sing. Creatures who live in the stables and look after the horses, women of the river and even a little man who lives in the oven just enrich this tale of a girl born into a power she does not understand and into a village wracked by hunger in the deep of winter. This is a place where the rule of the Christian Orthodoxy battles with the ancient traditions that see folk offering food and sometimes even blood to assuage the appetites of the household spirits who provide protection in the harshest times.
Two Mythic Brothers of massive power are battling for the hearts and minds of Vanya and her Village. She, the green eyed daughter of the Local Lord, whose equally beautiful mother died in childbirth to bring her into the world. She protects her entire family and her village with a wildness that does not need societal niceties, despite being branded a witch and consorts with Demons.
She sees what the other villagers only vaguely believe in through tradition or habit. She sees the creatures of other worlds hidden behind the veil of pragmatism and practicality Her step mother Anna is equally as sensitive to the spirits but she is affected by horrors and guilts where Vanya is innocently accepting. Anna cleaves to the word of a charismatic and ambitious priest, sent to the village to prevent a rapturous adoring congregation elevating him above his station by the jealous Prince. His machinations and desires could mean more than parishioner souls are lost from the fold.
A tale of Princes and Kings, seasons and spells, of tales and betrayals, and Faith versus Religion. For a relatively short tale it is rich with magic and family loyalties with much scope for more from this world with an ending that can be interpreted in a number of ways and enough threads left unravelled enough to enable another but woven enough to stand alone as an excellent and engaging tale!
I have not enjoyed a book so very much for a very long time. Yes this is a children's book, but we are all children in the dead of night when the wind is whistling and the house is creaking. We all see things in the shadows and who is to say that movement is not a little creature who lives in our central heating boiler?
Katherine Arden has written a sure footed and accomplished first novel with a deft hand with the myth and legend whilst still making her human characters fallible and engaging. Her story- telling is bright and fresh and the tale remains with me even now and I hope that more is forthcoming!
A tale of medieval Russian folklore with mystical and fantastical elements that draws the reader into its many layers. If you like highly atmospheric, magical books that read like a fairy tale for adults, then I would highly recommend you curl up next to a roaring fire on a cold winter's evening and read this one.
I chose to read this ARC for which I have given a voluntary and unbiased review.
This book was perfect for me, particularly as I love this genre. I was drawn into this snowy mystical story from the first page. It is beautifully descriptive and the prose clearly evokes Rus and the small village where Potyr Vladimovich and his family live.The family nurse Dunya tells Potyr's four children fairy stories but soon these are tinged with reality. More so when Potyr's beloved wife dies after giving birth to her fifth child Vasya, the heroine of the tale, who has the gift of 'the sight'. As she grows up Vasya sees mythical creatures both in her home and in the woods where she is irresistibly drawn on every occasion possible, usually in a bid to get out of her chores!
This book is so cleverly plotted that the reader is unaware of the distinction between fact and fairytale because they are so seamlessly interwoven. Every character is intricately drawn and is integral to the story as it progresses. As a step-mother, a vain priest and a blue eyed horseman join the story Vasya is forced not only to fight for herself but for her village. One of those books best read curled up beside a roaring fire - to keep out the cold shivers it will undoubtedly give you!
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing for letting me read an early copy of this book for review.
I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a honest review.
If you only read a YA fantasy book in 2017 make it The Bear and the Nightingale. Why? Because this book has it all; for a start it’s a fairytale retelling (which gives it bonus points), it’s a Russian fairytale, it involves a “war” between church and pagan beliefs (triple points) and it’s whimsicaly written.
So if this has captivated you already I am sure you will like Vasya’s story. A brief on-line search will tell you that the fairytale in question is commonly known as Vasilia the brave (or beautiful it depends) and that Catherynne M.Valente has already re-told it in her book Deathless (which is in my to-read pile). So when I first requested it I was unsure if I had made the right decision, I have read Valente’s work before and though that it might have been a better idea to just read her retelling. However I also wanted to try new authors and had read very good reviews of The Bear and the Nightingale so I though it was worth the risk.
I have to say that I was lucky and this book was so worth the risk. Wonderfully written and full of promise this is one of the few books I have ever read that lives up to expectation. As we follow Vasya from her birth to her adventurous teenage years we create a very close relationship with her that keeps the readers engaged in the story. Even though sometimes it seems like a slow burn I think the long look at Vasya’s formative years actually helps us understand better where she comes from and why she does/ reacts the way she does.
As I had never read the original fairytale I had no idea where the story was going or who the characters were. The author also choose to leave Russian words for the entities and places which helps set the mood and it was easy to find myself in the northern Russian forest. I think it also helped that I started to the read the book as the seasons where changing and autumn weather was becoming winter weather as the chill that was felt really help set the mood.
I used to read the book before going to bed but after part 3 I had to stop doing it as I was getting scared. The book takes a turn and becomes slightly darker with things roaming in the night and whispering in the shadows. Strange knocks on doors and blood splattered in the white snow. I have to admit I was not ready for it but it kept me engaged (even if with all my lights on).
The Bear and the Nightingale leaves the blog with a five star review and the certainty that it was one of the bets books I read in 2016.
I was invited to read this book by the publisher, and gladly accepted, since it looked like something I would like.
And liked it I did, at least for most of its parts. It took me a little while to get used to the writing style, however once I did I found it worked fairly well, telling the story in the manner of a fairy tale. The descriptions made it easy to picture the house Vasya lives in, the horses, the nearby forest, and the deep cold in winter.
I liked Vasya in general, and how her “opponents” were not only out of tales and folklore, but also what society expects of her (either marrying or going to a convent). This was easy to see with the way she was described, often likened to a “filly” when the point of view was a man’s, like an animal just waiting to be tamed. I felt that at times, this description extended to other POVs, which weakened it, but in general, it worked (yes, it created a feeling of unease and frustration… which was exactly the point, I suppose!). Fortunately, Vasya had no intention of being “tamed”, and revealed herself as a brave soul who wanted nothing more than to protect her family, even knowing that people would call her a witch. And it didn’t matter to her: she still wanted to do the right thing, without wasting time on justifying her actions.
The magic here is more on the subtle side: no spells, but folklore, people leaving food for the spirits of their home, Vasya being able to talk with horses, horses teaching her how to ride them, and “witches” being generally characterised by their ability to see the spirits. The latter were on the side of nature rather than morality’s, which was a pleasant thing: contrary to the priest’s and Anna’s beliefs, this was never about “demons”, about Good vs. Bad, but about two different sides of nature, the cold/death/order pitched against the scorching heat and violence of an unbound summer. Even if the Bear was touted as the enemy, he was nevertheless part of the cycle: not to be destroyed, simply to be forced to rest in order not to burn too bright and destroy what he touched instead of warming it.
To be honest, I regret a little that the story didn’t truly turn to magic/tale before later. There was much of “Vasya growing up, politics in Moscow”, etc., which in a bona fide fairy tale would’ve been an introduction, soon to leave room to the actual tale. Granted, it did help in setting the mood and the family relationships, but I suppose I was expecting more of the magical/enchanted side, in larger doses? In spite of the presence of chyerty, some chapters felt a tad bit too down to earth, in a way. I think this also contributes to making it a slow story: I admit I wondered, towards the end, if there’d be room for the announced battle against the Bear, because I was reaching the 85% mark and I still wasn’t seeing it.
Conclusion: 3.5 stars.
I thought this was such an unusual idea for a book that I just had to read it for myself. I don't believe that anyone is ever too old for fairytales, in fact I think that many myths and legends are kept alive by being told to children as fairy stories. The Bear and the Nightingale doesn't read like a traditional fairytale, it is definitely a novel for adults but contains a sprinkling of magic and the eternal battle of good against evil.
It was sometimes hard to get used to the Russian names, especially when the characters are also referred to by their affectionate family names. For example, the main character, Vasilisa is referred to as Vasya by her family. Once you got the hang of it though, it does become clear who everyone is.
Pyotr and Marina are expecting another child and Marina knows there's something special about this one. Unfortunately, Marina dies giving birth to Vasilisa (Vasya) but it's like the time that Obi Wan Kenobe felt a disturbance in the force, as the hidden world feels Vasya's presence and the destiny that awaits her.
I had never heard of protective house spirits called domovoi or rusalka, which are water nymphs. I'd like to think we all have a domovoi residing in our homes, looking after our wellbeing, and it reminds me of the tradition of leaving a glass of milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. Perhaps we should leave a little glass of something each night for our very own domovoi.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a difficult book to review without giving away any spoilers but I found myself so completely immersed in the book that I could almost feel snowflakes landing on my nose. There is a jaw dropping battle at the end, not quite between good and evil, and a few of the characters are quite prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice to save their loved ones. It's goosebumpy reading and not just from the chilly temperatures; The Bear and the Nightingale is an outstanding fantastical fairytale for adults.
I chose to read an ARC of The Bear and the Nightingale and this is my honest opinion.
Being a Slav myself, I do love when I find influence of Slavic folklore in books. In 9 out of 10 cases it's Russian folklore which is the most popular (but not the only one - writers take notes!). But when a writer makes a good story out of it, I can't be happier.
Of course this novel reminds me of DEATHLESS by Catherynne M. Valente but only because there are some legends and creatures in both these books and both these writers know enough of Russian language and history to use it properly in their books. This is a much slower read, with many more characters and events.
This is the story of a family that's close to the royal Russian family. They live in the forest, close to the magical creatures, with villagers who tell stories by the fire and believe in magical creatures, their lives are full of simple everyday magic. Pyotr Vladimirovich and his wife have many children before they get a daughter that will change everything, little Vasya. Vasya's life is marked by magical events. She is not an ordinary child and people believe she's a witch, which was never a real problem until religion finds a way to disturb their everyday life. Then this becomes a story about the loss of the old world and the dying of folk tales.
This is a wonderful mix history and fiction that talks about a time in history of Russia when not everything was easy for those who ruled the country. The poor people are poor and they will live even harder if the old gods don't feel pity for them and help them. The women are married of to someone they've met only once, never to see their families again. The men have a choice - to raise a family and fight many enemies or to devote their lives to God and live their lives in poverty. In such a world domovoi guard the houses, rusalka appears and the Night King is seen. There's an old story of a maiden being taken to be a greater creature's wife, there's a witch who saves her people and a worried father who falls under the spell of an evil stepmother. These are all elements of a fairy tale but the difference is that this time you are also given a realistic portrayal of Old Rus'.
The story of the Bear and the Nightingale is finally revealed in the second half of the book. Before that you'll probably start wondering why this title was chosen at all. But the second part is the actual story promised from the beginning when the main character was announced as the grandchild of an unusual woman. Famous fairy tales get an unusual twist and many famous characters appear (at least to those who know about Russian folk tales).
I expected something very different, much more closer to fairy tales when I started reading. In the end this is the story about an unusual family and the sacrifice one must make to keep that family alive.
This, Katherine Arden's first novel is influenced by Russian fairytales and is simply wonderful.
It introduces us to Vasya who is the daughter of a small time nobleman, he is a good, fair man but lives within the constraints of his time / world. Vasya is a challenge, she is different, wild, and as her mother says on her deathbed, important. When the darkness falls on their village this importance is really put to the test.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fantasy but it doesn't feel alien, the story plays out against the backdrop of the harshest of Russian winters (so much so that you will want to huddle and snuggle while you are reading it) and is infused with tidbits about the Russian culture which were fascinating and served to highlight my own lack of knowledge.
I found this novel addictive, in the same way a packet of Maltesers are, (feel free to insert your own personal weakness here) you can't stop eating until you've finished. I know I haven't done the storyline justice but for me it was all about the emotions the story evoked along the way, it's one of those books that you try to slow down reading because you don't want it to end. Think strawberries and cream, hot chocolate and marshmallows, then put your electric blanket on, snuggle up and just enjoy.
This book is special, it was a privilege to read on behalf of Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I can't wait to see what this author comes out with next.
Do you know that fuzzy feeling when you find a book with a world so immersive that you don't want it to ever end? This was a book like that for me. I absolutely adored it - and I am not quite sure if this review will at all be coherent, but I'll try my best.
This was a book that I was super super excited to get to read early. I love books set in Russia, especially the North of Russia; I love Fairy Tales; I love the books the blurb compared it to. I only wanted to read the first chapter because I have loads of unfinished books already but I was immediately drawn in and did not feel like reading anything else. I absolutely devoured it and when I came up again I was a bit sad that the book wasn't longer (especially because the last 3% were the glossary so the book ended a good 15 pages before I thought it would!). That so rarely happens with me!
The book tells the story of Vasya, a child whose mother was a bit other-worldly and who died giving birth to her. Vasya is different herself, being able to converse with household-spirits that nobody else can see. In true fairy tale fashion, her father remarries and the stepmother is, well not exactly evil, but one of the main antagonistic forces of this story. In a world where the new Christian beliefs are at odds with the older, heathen beliefs, this conflict comes to a head when a new priest is appointed to their little village and sets into motion a series of events that will have the heroine come face to face with arcane powers.
Set in the North of Russia with its seemingly ever-lasting winter, the author creates an atmosphere so believable, and enchanting, and surreal, and creepy, and beautiful, I could picture it every step of the way. Her characters are equally believable and even though they all fit the tropes of the genre, Katherine Arden adds little twists that make this story incredibly original and readable. One of my favourite of her decisions was the complete lack of romantic interest the heroine shows. She just wants to decide her life for herself; a difficult thing to do in a time when the two options open for her are a) marriage or b) joining a convent.
Overall, in case anyone missed it, I absolutely adored this book and its main character. I love the little nods to fairy tales I grew up with and I love the focus on making your own choices rather than just doing what is expected and/ or easy. The only slight negative I can find is that I found the ending to be rushed; but then again I just didn't want the book to end, ever.
I received this book curtesy of NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
A very promising debut novel, I enjoyed this very much. I didn't know anything about Russian folklore, so I enjoyed that element, as well as the story itself. The descriptions of life in Medieval Russia are just wonderful, and you truly are drawn in to believing that the demons and spirits exist, and imagining what they looked like enhanced the story even more for me (I did end up going online to look up more information/images about these myths).
The story itself is about the life of a Russian family, particularly the daughter, Vasilisa, who sees these demons and spirits and is more responsible than others for ensuring that they survive, especially with the arrival of a new priest who bullies and scares the villagers into abandoning these 'old ways'. However, there is more at stake than just the abandonment of these old ways, and only Vasilisa can save them, but this comes at a price as she has to consort with more than just spirits and demons if she is to save her family and village.
All in all a really enjoyable fairytale for adults, quite dark, but dazzling!
I have to say first off that I absolutely loved this book - it's perfect for this time of year when the nights are drawing in and you can sit in front of the fire to get lost in a world of dark snowy forests and evil spirits. I found it really hard to explain the story because there's just so much going on. There's lots of different characters who come and go, the plot could frequently go in several different directions and you never know what is going to happen next.
It was really nice to read a proper fantasy story that didn't feel like a children's book. It was gritty and fast paced with a really interesting mix of Russian folklore that gave just the right element of creepiness. However, I think that the best thing about the story was how the author made it so completely evocative of a cold Russian village in the woods. I got completely lost in the storytelling and a heavy usage of Russian terms made the tale feel totally authentic, like a wizened old lady is telling you a cautionary tale from her childhood.
I thought initially that the use of Russian words might be off putting but I thought that the author got the balance exactly right - there was enough to add to the charm of the book but not enough to be confusing (there's also a handy glossary at the end).
I really loved the main character Vasilisa. I thought that she was a really good strong female role model, especially as the book is set in a period where women were seen as property. This is referenced within the story and I loved her defiance to the status quo, her attitude and her bravery. All of the characters in the book were very well written and I found most of them to be a bit marmite - you either loved it hated them.
I don't want to give anything away but there really is an epic ending. I was worried that I was getting very close to the end and that there would be dome kind of disappointing cliff hanger but everything came together beautifully (whilst still leaving enough room for a sequel).
I would love there to be further books about Vasilisa to explore her world (and the world of the spirits) further. I also wanted to know more about her brothers and sisters and to hear more about life in the palace. If I had one criticism of the book it would be that some of the secondary characters were written out of the main story a little bluntly.
Overall, I found the Bear and the Nightingale to be totally enchanting and captivating. I completely got lost in it and would highly recommended it.
There are some books that are just meant to be read with the cold wind whistling down the chimney and a spiced cup of tea. This is one of them.
I’ve always been a big fan of Russian classics, reading wide-eyed into the night from tomes larger than my head, imagining Princes and Princesses fur bundled in sledges against the driving snow, or farmer’s daughters dancing around the kitchen bread ovens. I was unsure as to whether a modern author would ever be able to capture the wild, hard beauty of Russian history quite like a writer who had lived through it. But this book proved me wrong.
Rich, heady, and yet unyielding in its honesty, embracing the juxtaposition that is the beauty and bleakness of life in a rural northern Russian village far from Moscow. The breaking of bread fresh from the oven, the frail snowdrops raising their heads against the ice, the dull blue lips of a child who froze in the dark winter night.
I fell in love with the wildness of Vasya, our protagonist, and how she felt like a creature of the woods herself. Wilful, clever and obstinate, she was a character after my own heart.
Arden brings to life the elemental superstitions of Russian folklore, from the timid house spirits to the powerful godlike figure of Morozko, Father of the Frost and the Winter Wind. Even if you are not familiar with Russian folklore, Arden manages to gently explain mythological origins in text without the reader ever feeling overwhelmed. I was also impressed with how easily she managed to convey the increasing discord between the old ways and Christianity in the rural hamlets, where farmer’s left offerings to the house spirits to protect them and yet simultaneously felt guilt for looking beyond the church for help. It’s a fascinating time in history that Arden has managed to mould into the most beautiful story.
I feel I could probably ramble about how much I love this book for a good while. I can still remember curling up to read it on my kindle in the dark and just feeling as if I had stepped into another time entirely.
Rich, vibrant, and utterly scintillating; I recommend this book to anyone who is drawn to the winds of the winter, to the warmth of the open fire or the cavernous depth of the night sky. I recommend it to anyone with a soul.
This is the best fantasy I've read in years. Absolutely beautifully written, this dark fairytale is as close to perfection as can be. The setting, a medieval village in 14th century Russia or Russ' is so vividly described that I sometimes felt cold, even though I'm reading in South Africa's sweltering summer. The main character, Vasya, is a strong female lead, but one with doubts and real emotions. I loved how the author intertwined the story, the magic and the Russian folklore to create something truly exceptional. I absolutely adored that The Bear and the Nightingale feels like a mixture of historical fiction, fantasy and magical realism. The inclusion of mythical characters like Banniks, Vodianoys and Dvorniks kept this deliciously foreign and I also enjoyed the conflict between religion and these myths. If you enjoy fantasy tales that feels older than time, then definitely read this.
I don't normally read fantasy, but this book had me gripped form the start. Enthralling writing, and a very special book.
This book is one of my favourite reads this year without a doubt and at about 60% of the way through I became sad because I knew it was going to be finished soon. Only the books I love make it to my bookshelf permanently and this will be one of them.
I love Russian literature so as soon as I read the blurb for this book I knew I had to get a copy to review.
Set in winter, in Northern Russia, this is the perfect read for when it’s cold outside. The book begins with the lines “It was late winter in northern ‘Rus, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.” The rest of the book continues to beautifully describe the harsh, wintery conditions and contains a series of intriguing characters from Russian folk tales.
The opening scene of the book has the children gathering around the fire to listen to a tale from Dunya.
“No one was thinking of chilblains or runny noses, or even wistfully of porridge and roast meats, for Dunya was to tell a story…that evening, the old lady was sat in the best place for talking, in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven.”
As she is about to start the children’s mother, Marina, who Dunya also used to look after, appears in the doorway. Marina requests the story of Keruchan, the frost demon and winter-king.
“In Russia, frost was called Marozko, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Keruchan, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in the night, it was an ill-omened word and unlucky to speak it while he still held the land in his grip.”
Dunya begins to weave a story about a beautiful girl whose jealous stepmom convinces her father to leave her in the woods as a bride for the winter god. All the while she is secretly hoping the girl will die instead. The tale is just one of many fascinating tales within the book.
Dunya tells the children about the winter god during the tale; “some say he is naught but a cold, crackling breeze whispering among the firs, others say he is an old man in a sledge, with bright eyes and cold hands. Others say he is a warrior in his prime, but robed all in white, with weapons of ice.”
The children’s father Pyotr Vladimirovich was a great lord, “a boyar, with all lands and many men to do his bidding. It was only by choice that he passed his nights with his labouring stock.” Pyotr is a very likable character and clearly cares about his wife and children as well as his livestock.
Pyotr is concerned about Marina’s health and is more concerned than happy when he discovers that she is pregnant again. He is even more concerned when Marina tells him, “I want a daughter like my mother was.”
Marina tells Pyotr, “She had gifts that I have not, I remembered her in Moscow the noble women whispered. But power is a birthright to the women of her bloodline, why Olga did not inherit these gifts, but this one will be different.”
Pyotr is knows very little about Marina’s mother as she and Dunya speak about her only rarely. The rumours said
“a ragged girl rode through the kremlin gates alone except for her tall grey horse. Despite filth and hunger and weariness, rumours dogged her footsteps. She had small graces, the people said, and eyes like the swan-maiden in a fairy tale…The princess would not say where she had come from: not then and not ever. The serving women murmured that she could tame animals, dream the future, and summon rain.”
Dunya is similarly concerned, “Your mother! The ragged maiden who rode alone out of the forest? Who faded to a dim shadow of herself because she could not bear to live her life behind Byzantine screens? Have you forgotten that grey crone she became? Stumbling veiled to church? Hiding in her room, eating until she was round and greasy with her eyes all blank? Your mother. Would you wish that on any child of yours?”
Vasya was a child of winter from the beginning, “The first screaming winds of November rattled the bare trees on the day Marina’s pains came on her, and the child’s first cry mingled with their howl. Marina laughed to see her daughter born. ‘Her name is Vasilisa,’ she said to Pyotr, ‘my little Vasya.’
The wind dropped at dawn. In silence, Marina breathed out once, gently and died.”
Vasya was by far my favourite character in this novel.
“Vasilisa Petrovna was an ugly little girl: skinny as a reed-stem with long-fingered hands and enormous feet. Her eyes and mouth were too big for the rest of her…But the child’s eyes were the colour of the forest during a summer thunderstorm and her wide mouth was sweet. She could be sensible when she wished – and clever – so much so that her family looked at each other, bewildered, each time she abandoned sense and took yet another madcap idea into her head.”
Vasya loves nothing more than to disappear into the forest for hours at a time. There she spends time talking to creatures of Russian myths and legends. They are referred to at various times throughout the book, sometimes as demons, sometimes as old gods depending on who is referring to them.
One day whilst deep in the forest she meets a mysterious man on a horse and a one-eyed man, who are they? And why are they interested in Vasya?
As Vasya grows older Pyotr and the rest of her family begin to be concerned about her and the attention her wild nature brings from the villagers. Pyotr decides to head to Moscow to find himself a wife and a new mother for Vasya. Whist in Moscow a mysterious stranger gives Pyotr a gift for Vasya, a necklace, and tells Pyotr to make sure she always wears it and to never tell anyone about it. Pyotr puts off giving it to her and gets Dunya to keep hold of it for him instead.
Anna is from a very powerful family in Moscow but has delayed making a match for her due to her madness. Anna is very devout and wishes to go to a nunnery as that is the only place she feels respite from the things she sees. “A demon sat staring in the corner, and she was the only one who saw. Anna Ivanova clutched at the cross between her breasts. Eyes shut, she whispered, ‘Go away, please go away.’
Anna and Vasya struggle to get along from the beginning, Anna believes all the creatures are evil whereas Vasya believes that some of the creatures are there to protect them. As the years go by Anna begins to plot to get Vasya married off.
The arrival of a priest from Moscow only compounds Vasya’s problems with the villagers. “Vasya was frightened.
Not of the priest, and not of the devils. She saw them every day. Some were wicked, and some were kind, and some were mischievous. All were as human as the folk they guarded. No, Vasya was frightened of her own people.”
As things with the villagers worsen the creatures begin to deteriorate, Vasya fights to be able to stay with her family to protect them from the ancient evil that is awakening in the forest.”
I loved this book and cannot recommend it enough, it was fantastic. The perfect winter read, I cannot wait to get a copy for my bookshelf.
This was hands down one of the best books I‘ve read all year. The storytelling was great, the world building even better. The characters had a lot of depth, the whole setting was so unique and new! It took me a while to get into it but it reminded me of The Night Circus which I also loved so much. That‘s why I continued reading and I didn‘t regret it. The whole story was captivating, and I will not give out any spoilers because I think everyone should read this book!
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