The Bear and the Nightingale

25489134by Katherine Arden
Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: January 10, 2017

This had a bit of a quiet debut but it delivered everything I hoped for! Plenty of Russian folklore, magic, a mysterious protagonist, and all things winter. I loved this!

Although Vasya is the main character, we follow a large cast over several years in the remote northern woods of Rus’. Vasya’s parents are beloved by their people, and everyone grieves when Vasya’s mother dies giving birth to her. When her father brings a new wife to their lands, the conflict between Christianity and the old traditions intensifies. The people, fearful of the hell their new monk preaches each week, begin to view Vasya as the daughter of a witch because of her strange ways. Her father, brother, and nurse attempt to shield Vasya both from the village’s growing hostility and the knowledge that the frost demon, the winter-king, seeks her life for his own reasons.

I came for the world and stayed for the characters. The relationship between Vasya and her older brother Alyosha was my favorite—watching them evolve from siblings that teased each other to adults that look out for each other was a satisfying and enjoyable journey. About halfway through is when the story becomes truly creepy! The winter-king, his brother the Bear, and different events in the village had me on edge until the end. (I would jump so hard if someone interrupted my reading!) The constant feeling of being watched by dark creatures or mercurial spirits soaks through each page and creates the best kind of tension. Vasya’s determination to protect her family and village despite their disapproval is a moving conflict, and I could not get enough of the winter-king!

The last page had me wistful to go back and stay in the wintery forest—this debut provides that lush experience of listening to stories by the fire at night. The writing is savory without being too flowery. This is a perfect read for snowy days!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Bear and the Nightingale is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A lyrical and dark tale of a girl taken by a sorcerer to learn magic. This seems foolish until she learns of the evil power festering in the kingdom’s forest, threatening to rise and destroy everything. Beautiful, funny, romantic, dark–I absolutely love this book! See my review here.
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni find themselves in New York City in 1899 through strange circumstances. Their unlikely friendship is marked by strange happenings as they try to build lives in the city of immigrants.
  • The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell – If you want a bit more of the Russian winter, follow Feo’s quest to save her mother, the wolf wilder. With only her half-wild wolf pack and the help of a young soldier, Feo must journey through the forest to St. Petersburg and free her mother from unjust imprisonment. See my review here.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – Another story featuring a girl unsure of her powers and destiny thrust into saving her kingdom from dragons and other evil forces. It has a similar mood and is one of my favorite books! It’s rare that anything I read reminds me of it. See my review here.
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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A Conjuring of Light | To Live a Thousand Lives
  2. Trackback: Wintersong | To Live a Thousand Lives

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