“The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden
Genre: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
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 forgot how much I loved fairy stories. This book is slow moving at times but I wanted to crawl inside to story and stay for awhile. Unfortunately, the slow moving pace grew to frustrate me a little and it took me a while to get through the story. Perhaps it was a story that I should have listened to rather than read?
The atmosphere was great. It felt slightly haunting but I wanted more. I always find it interesting how fairy tales are similar no matter where you are, no matter what culture they’re from. Even though I’m not familiar with Russian fairy tales or folklore, there was just something very familiar about the story.
The characters were interesting enough. I always enjoy female characters sticking to their guns and not doing what society is forcing them to do. Vasya is my type of girl. She rebels but not in an Earth-shattering way. Just enough to buck against what she is being forced to do. It was great to see Vasya grow up over the course of the story. I look forward to seeing what happens in future books.
All in all, The Bear and the Nightingale is a story to get lost in and live for a while. Great addition to your Fall/Winter TBR.