The Bear and the Nightingale

Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale
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Del Rey
Release Date
January 2017
Book 1 of Winternight Trilogy
Fantasy Romance

Genre: Fantasy

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.

Book Review by Ashia (reviewer)
Oct 10, 2017   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
173 people found the following review helpful
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is a captivating, edgy tale of growing up and finding one's self and beliefs. It has been recommended for fans of Uprooted (by Naomi Novik), but I thought fans of Wintesong (by S. Jae-Jones) would also enjoy this as well. There's the same coming-of-age heroine and a supernatural "hero", though Wintersong is a tad darker and more intense. More than a romance though, both of these stories chronicle the heroines' journey into self-actualization. Needless to say, I enjoyed both books thoroughly and wouldn't hesitate to recommend either one.

I was held enthralled by the possibility of a romance between Vasya and Morozko, the frost-demon. It's a mere possibility here; nothing truly happens, except what Vasya could do for Morozko. In her youth and courage, she possessed a magic that spirits/demons/gods need to "survive"--belief. At a time when Christianity entered her country and there's the push-pull between the old gods and believing in the one God among the people, that Vasya could see these spirits/demons (she possessed second sight) is the basis of that belief. Actually, the people have found a certain harmony in the worship of both kinds of gods; it's just that in the book, they're being pushed to remove the old gods thoroughly, which led to the main conflict in the story. If you're like me and you don't much like books with religious themes, don't worry, there's not much of sermons and such (only when the priest Konstantin is on the scene, which is not a lot); there are, however, the cute domovoi, the prophesying bannik and other household spirits, as well as the white mare and her rider, the intriguing frost-demon, Morozko the winter-king.

The worldbuilding is superb and immerses me thoroughly in the story, and I didn't even mind the slow build up (we are after all treated to snippets from Vasya's birth to her growing up years) because the author has lots of interesting things to show us during that time. That the story is told from multiple points of view only made it more intriguing and gave it a depth that wouldn't have been possible if told only from Vasya's point of view.

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is the first in the intriguing Winternight Trilogy. Can't wait to read more of Vasya's adventures and, dare I say, more of the mysterious Morozko!
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