Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the bear and the nightingale

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 323
Pacing: Slower
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Published: January 10th 2017




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. – synopsis from Goodreads

my thoughts

“Now hear me. Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing, and weep for a nightingale.” 

I’ve been meaning to read The Bear and the Nightingale for a while now and what better time then during our Winter Wonderland Reading Challenge, that we are hosting this December and January in the TBR and Beyond  Facebook group. I knew I would really enjoy this one and I was not disappointed, it was everything I thought it would be.

First, can we gush over the cover please? Well the US one that is. I found it to set the mood for the whole feel of the book. The look is so magical with the cabin in the forest, the snow, the girl – everything gave me such a cozy feeling. It seemed as if I was going to read a fairy tale and a fairy tale is exactly what the book gave me.

What you must know about The Bear and the Nightingale is that the pacing of this story is slow, it builds as it goes. If you want something filled with action or if you can’t get into slow building stories then my suggestion would be to move along to your next read. However, if you love stories that paint pictures and fills your imagination with far away lands and enchanted forests then this is the book for you. The writing is very lyrical and resembles the way fairy tales are written with maybe a hint of magical realism. Probably one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read. It reminded me of the middle-grade novel, The Girl that Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill –  the writing not the story in how beautiful the prose was.

I love that it’s inspired by Russian folktales, it made it very unique to me as I haven’t read many books that take their inspiration from those. You can see that Katherine Arden really loves this culture and has studied the myths. That’s something I really liked about it, getting to see the little creatures/spirits in this book some of them were adorable and others were more of the I’m going to eat your flesh type. I loved meeting them all and it got me interested in maybe learning more about these little spirits and their origins. I wouldn’t mind having a Domovoi in my house to help me clean, haha.

I enjoyed following the journey of Vasilisa, the main character. She wasn’t afraid to be different and go against what others wanted for her, she fought to have her voice heard. Despite sometimes having to keep her true nature hidden, she still fought to stay true to herself. It felt reliable in a world where we still tell women be a mom, be a wife, dress and act a certain way,. Vasilisa struggled with these issues and at the end of the day just wanted to be who she was and I loved her for it.

If you are looking for the perfect winter read you might want to check out The Bear and the Nightingale. Grab a blanket, make yourself a hot cocoa, find yourself a cozy spot and travel to this far away magical forest with this wonderful book.

4 stars