Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Published by: Del Rey Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult
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.
“I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die.
I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure,
or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold,
silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself,
if it were a path of my own choosing.”–The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale was the first book I read in 2018 and it has taken me a few weeks to finally gather all my thoughts together. I really enjoyed this novel and I don’t think my review will do it justice. This enchanting story is beautifully written, and the language, along with the characters, were truly engaging. I loved that the story has the flow and entrancing details of a fairy tale, but it also reflects the whimsical oddity of blurring the lines between reality and magic.
The Bear and the Nightingale provides many moments of awe, and it inspire scenes that stress the commonalities of life with a hint of the extraordinary and fantasy. While the main character, Vasilisa, and her family face the adversities of living in the country, her family also has some prestigious advantages over their neighbors. She is not from a family in poverty but they do face the chill of the winter and the hardships that come along with staying warm, fed, and healthy.
In The Bear and the Nightingale, Vasilisa is bombarded with patriarchal norms to find a husband, take care of a household, and have children. However, she often goes against the grain. Her heart is warm with tenderness to take care of her family, friends, and even animals, but she also wants so much more for herself. I adored Vasilisa’s spirit to be wild, fierce, and selfless. Even though her gift of magic goes against the norm, and even the Christian faith, I loved that Vasilisa challenges the traditional ways of thinking, believing, and acting.
Overall, while focusing on Russian folklore and history, The Bear and the Nightingale is filled with magic, a girl that can communicate with demons, and a direct fist punch into the traditional patriarchy ways of thinking. I really enjoyed how captivating, magical, and empowering the story unfolded. I cannot wait to pick up book 2.
NOTE: I was not provided a copy of this book by the author or the publisher in exchange for a review. I bought this book with my own funds, and I reviewed the book at my own discretion. All statements and opinions in this review are mine.