THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE
Written by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey Books, January 10, 2017
My star rating: 4 stars
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. Find it on Goodreads
This is an incredibly hard book to review! It’s like a folklore fairy tale come to life in a beautifully written setting. But it’s one that you can’t be told to appreciate it. You need to read it for yourself and conjure the visions within your mind. I tried to listen to this one as an audiobook a few months ago and didn’t make it far. Not that it was a bad audiobook, but I knew that I needed to read it for myself and take in every word. Having someone read it to me just wouldn’t be the same.
The book is split into three parts. The first part is full of world building which I absolutely LOVED! I loved every bit of the world they were in. The atmosphere of it all was so comforting, rustic, and unforgiving. This is also where the groundwork of how these characters lived came in. We heard of Prince’s and Lords who held lands and kept their people. We got some inner working of the politics within these lands as well which was absolutely fascinating. But, best of all, we got the groundwork of how this family lived day to day. What the kids did, the nurse, the father, the priest and more. They all had their part and all came together like a well oiled machine to make things happen. Their duties changed with the seasons as well. All of this wasn’t very fast paced but it was so glorious. Everything had structure yet it was carefree. I LOVED this first part!
The second part was taking the events that happened in part one and carried it on a few years later. The small children were now in their early teens, and things were beginning to branch out as children got married, had their own kids, and pondered their futures. This part, unfortunately fell flat for me. It was VERY slow paced. Atmospheric? Absolutely. But I wondered when things were going to come together. All of the politics and family dynamics that I enjoyed so much in the beginning fell away a little bit. Some of the family members that I loved were in different places and we didn’t get much from them, if at all.
Part three was the redemption. It was absolutely GLORIOUS! So beautiful – I was in awe. It all had an old-world feel like fairy tales were coming to life. Stories that these very characters had heard from their made were now becoming a part of their lives. The atmosphere was beyond compare in so many elements and it was very emotional. I felt myself giggling, smiling, and heartbroken all in the same moment. I can’t say anything about this part at all. You need to experience this for yourself.
As much as I loved the fairy tale and folklore aspects of this, I did struggle with it a bit. I found the middle very slow moving and I was a little sad to see that a few of the characters weren’t present the whole way through. I understand that, for the sake of forward movement and the passing of time, these characters couldn’t always be there. But at the same time I missed them. And I REALLY could have used more of the “frost demon”. As much as I loved all the characters in this book, he was the one that I found most interesting. I felt that this book could have been so much better if we skipped the lag and detail through the middle and got some more detail about him, his past, and what he was capable of. When we got to that part of the story I was SO involved in every detail. It felt like magic and I was enchanted – fully and completely. I NEED MORE OF THIS! Even something as simple as a cup or a piece of cloth was the most interesting thing to me. So I guess you can say that the balance of detail was the issue for me. More detail of some things and less in others.
But all around, this world and its characters will stick with me. It was beautifully written, the world building was fantastic, and the old world folklore atmosphere is not to be beat. I look forward to continuing with this series very soon!
Until next time, happy reading!