The Bear and the Nightingale
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A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.
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.
Advance praise for The Bear and the Nightingale
“Stunning . . . will enchant readers from the first page. . . . with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate.”—Publishers Weekly(starred review)
“Utterly bewitching . . . a lush narrative . . . an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Arden’s supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Radiant . . . a darkly magical fairy tale for adults, [but] not just for those who love magic.”—Library Journal
“An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale . . . A Russian setting adds unfamiliar spice to the story of a young woman who does not rebel against the limits of her role in her culture so much as transcend them. The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic.”—Robin Hobb
“A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up.”—Naomi Novik
“Haunting and lyrical, The Bear and the Nightingale tugs at the heart and quickens the pulse. I can’t wait for her next book.”—Terry Brooks
“The Bear and the Nightingale is a marvelous trip into an ancient Russia where magic is a part of everyday life.”—Todd McCaffrey
“Enthralling and enchanting—I literally couldn’t put it down. A wondrous book!”—Tamora Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
fable with creatures that jump right out of the classic Russian Fairytales.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fable with creatures that jump right out of the classic Russian Fairytales.
It all circles around Vasilisa. Vasilisa has the ability to communicate with the mythical, fabled creatures that her family, neighbors and town have always left tribute too but never seen.
When Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow to ask the royalty for matches for his older children when he is given a wife for himself. Her new stepmother can see the same creatures Vasilisa has befriended but instead of treasuring her gifted ability she forbades Vasilisa to honor these spirits. Then the stepmother rallies with a priest to convince the village to turn from the spirit ways.
Making the spirits angry is never a good idea.
Very slow building. It finally picked up over half way through the tale which by then I was not invested.
I'm going with 3.5 stars. The heart of storytelling was there and the premise was completely my kind of read but the characters fell flat as a pancake with zero character connection. Part of me wanted to love it but it became bogged down by daily activities with an occasional snippet that would grab me.
I received this ARC copy of The Bear and the Nightingale from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine - Del Rey in exchange for a honest review.
Russian folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy for a modern audience
The Bear and the Nightingale is Russian folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy for a modern audience. It is a beguiling debut novel from Katherine Arden. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rich future ahead of her as a writer.
I was enthralled. As a Christian, I must say that you cannot read this book without pulling all of your hair out unless you understand that it is based upon the medieval beliefs of the Russian people. A people that experienced Christianization but whom never fully eradicated their pagan beliefs.
While the church is a large part of the story, The Bear and the Nightingale doesn’t portray the true church. The primary “Christian” that we are introduced to is Konstantin, often addressed as Batyuska, meaning “little father”, a respectful address for Orthodox ecclesiastics. Konstantin is fighting his own battle to understand God. Throughout the majority of the book, he is possessed by a demon. When the demon is gone, Konstantin is lost and bewildered. Therefore, there isn’t a true tension between the two belief systems. It is more like one magic in opposition to another magic. It is the quintessential folktale and needs to be read as such.
I loved the story and look forward to reading further books by Arden.
I received a review copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. My thanks to the author and publisher.
For all of my reviews visit my blog at www (dot) blessedandbewildered (dot) com
Arden is an author to watch
I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d find in the pages of this book, but I am so very glad that I went on and explored. The exhaustive research into folk and faerie tales from the Slavic world is impressive, and resonates on each page. This book is not a rush to the finish story, but often hesitates and stalls, allowing the descriptions their time to shine, and imbuing readers with that sense of being there, enmeshed in the cold, as the pages turn.
A mix of historic fiction and faerie tale, Arden spends much of the book in explanation and family history for Vasilia, the heroine, and much of the information serves to highlight the source of her unusual powers and the conflicts that will come to be hers as benevolent and not so forces combine to test, task and strengthen her.
Told in multiple perspectives, some working better than others, the head jumping does take effort for the reader, but as the story is moving slowly, these moments often serve to flush out a visualization and allow the moments to grow exponentially, fixing the images in mind and place. Like all faerie tales, there are decidedly good and bad characters, and Arden has managed to place shades of grey in there, allowing choice and intention determine the outcomes. Wholly engaging and immersive, you expect to look out the window and see nothing but snow and trees as far as the eye can see.
The first of three planned novels that combine Slavic folk and faerie tales with fiction and a perspective that is wholly her own, Arden is an author to watch for those readers who enjoy a slower-paced story that arrives with a solid feel of new and different.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.