This book…oh, this book. Magical, rich, and lyrical, this book was just gorgeous. Who says fairy tales are for kids? I didn’t want this one to end.
The Bear and the Nightingale is one of those finds that make me appreciate the diverse array of books and authors that NetGalley introduces to me, because this is a gem. Curious?
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 marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles nearer, 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
“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, bestselling author of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy
“A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up.”—Naomi Novik, bestselling author of Uprooted
Oh my goodness, this book – I could honestly use up all my favorite adjectives describing it! Haunting and dark at times, with writing that is lyrical and evocative. This is a story of family and sacrifice, and of old faith (paganism) meeting new faith (and how some are swayed by that which is not what it seems), woven through with folklore. This isn’t happy deer dancing in the woods – the Russian fairy lore is darker and Grimm-like.
That said, if you aren’t a fan of “fantasy” (I might even label it magical realism), you shouldn’t let that deter you. That element is merely the icing on a ridiculously rich layer cake of historical/literary fiction flavored with gorgeous imagery and strong writing.
Vasya is strong willed and magical, unwilling to conform to conventions – and able to see all the spirits, fairies and other beings of Russian folklore. It is a fairy tale of sorts – the kind that Neil Gaiman so deftly weaves. This book balances well on the borders of literary fiction and fantasy.
It is also a book to read slowly and savor. There are several storylines, and characters have variations on their names (their formal name, the Russian familiar and often a nickname) so if you rush, you might find yourself backtracking a bit. This didn’t deter me in the least; no, in reality, it encouraged me to slow down and soak up every single detail.
It had an ending that was perfect, and a little birdie has said that author Arden has two more books that will follow The Bear and the Nightingale – for which I am already impatient. This book is a beautiful escape. Read it.
About the Author
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