Media Type: Ebook (ARC)
Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: Hardcover; 336
Release Date: January 10, 2017
Source: NetGalley / Publisher
Content Screening: Mild Violence
HDB Rating: 5 Keys to My Heart
Recommended to: Readers who love a good fairy tale, complete with a strong heroine.
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.
Characters like Vasilisa have always been my favorite. Stubborn, willful, strong to a point where they actually cause others to fear their strangeness. Vasilisa is a woman on the fringes. She's a character who doesn't conform to norms, and is better because of it. In other words, she's everything I aspire to be. Arden wastes no time in pushing Vasilisa towards her ultimate fate and, to her credit, Vasilisa faces it head on. I was mesmerized by her, and it made this story fly by. I could have read many more pages following this amazing woman.
As mentioned above, the Russian folklore is really the star of the show here though. As the children sat around the fire, to hear tales of bravery and death, so did I. Arden brought to life the winter demon, his black-hearted brother, and all the household spirits that populated this story. As Vasilisa grew to know them, and love and hate them as called for, so did I. I found myself so immersed in this story, that I actually felt angry when people pulled me away from it. My one wish was to find out what became of our brave protagonist, and the family that she would do anything to protect.
The Bear and the Nightingale is my first five-starred review of 2017, and well deserving of that honor. This is the kind of book that you buy in hardcover, so that it will survive many re-reads to come. If this isn't already on your reading list, it should be. It really, really should.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.