The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

31344916‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’Β 

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
Amazon ebook 338 Ebury Digital Folklore / Fairy Tale January 12th, 2017

My review can hardly add anything of worth to the mix for this greatly loved book- it has won over so many hearts. One can hardly blame them… The elements of Russian folklore and culture are rich and in this case, put to a really good use.

But… I have to admit, I am a bit less blown away. Perhaps because the folklore and atmosphere is not as ‘exotic’ for me. The stories of demons and the birch-branches in the sauna, they would have been part of my normal life in Estonia πŸ™‚ Russia is, after all, just behind the border…

Having said that, the effect of The Bear and the Nightingale was one of bittersweet joy. It made me homesick on so many levels. Don’t get me wrong, Estonia is not Russia, but our folklore has overlap and the winters… above all, I miss a good snowy, freezing-my-ass-off kind of winter. Arden did a tremendously good job at painting the picture of scenery and even though I felt the start of the story was like a newborn calf trying to find its legs, it grew quickly and solidly in confidence, voice and purpose.

During long hours of his vigil, God had given him the answer. He knew what evil lay upon this land. It was in the sun-symbols on the nurse’s apron, in that stupid woman’s terror, in the fey, feral eyes of Pyotr’s elder daughter. The place was infested with demons: the chyerti of the old religion.

Overall, every piece, character and event fit into the story. The mixing of the old pagan ways with the Christian religion is always a bit of a favourite scenario for me. It opens up so many angles and directions for characters and offers many a conflict to aid the story to power on along. I am not even sorry to say this but Konstantin and Anna sit nicely on my hatelist. Konstantin, with all of his holy messages, forgot to keep his ego in check, and Anna- just…Β sigh

Vasya is a character every reader, opening a new book, wants to find in between the pages. She’s the character, a personality, that begs to be admired. True to herself, kind toΒ man and beast, she is the woman that defines the connection in between nature and mankind. She is the free and wild beauty that a human soul was meant for. If I was a domovoi or a rusalka, or any other kind of spirit, I would want Vasilisa to see me. My heart was often in my throat on behalf of her but needlessly…Β  She is a force and the outcome of the story for her was perfect.

If you, for whatever reason, have not yet read the book, then don’t expect a deep character study but rather an alluring tale about the consequences when man turns their back on ‘down to earth, back to roots’ kind of nature. What you get is a marvellous glimpse into many characters, their characteristics delivered through their actions rather than thoughts. But the atmosphere… it will pull you in and charm you, and it will keep you. It truly is mesmerizing. Some of my favourite scenes involved the Morozko, in the house that isn’t a house… The moments of kindness were fleeting but came off the pages so strong, I felt nearly breathless.

As far as fairy tales go, this is one not to miss. Comes with a 100% guarantee of an evil stepmother, a kind father, moral of the story, mythical creatures, cruelty and small victories.

The Bear and the Nightingale on Goodreads Β¦ Amazon UK Β¦ USA

 

46 comments

  1. I’m glad that this book was able to evoke a sense of nostalgia for you. It’s great that countries such as Russia and Estonia still share folklore tales with their children. That’s something that’s sadly lacking in countries like the UK and it’s such a shame because stories such as these are fuel for the imagination which is what makes childhood so enjoyable.
    This sounds like an awesome read! I adore fairytales, especially ones derived from other countries πŸ˜€ Great review! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jazz! Yes, I think some of the fondest childhood memories would be my mother telling ym those fairy tales of reading these books… and they truly are so good for the imagination but also to start learning life’s lessons.. or well, at least trying to πŸ™‚ It’s all brain fuel!
      I hope you get a chance to read this book πŸ™‚ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a fair point. It’s crazy how many life lessons can be found in fairy tales and fables! I think a lot of the time those kinds of stories, if traced back far enough, have a grain of truth in them and became tales parents would tell their children as a way of warning them against certain actions…like Little Red Riding Hood. Perhaps don’t stray from the path when walking through the woods for example πŸ˜›
        Next time I go to the book store, I’ll see if I can find it! ❀

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  2. hehe you know, I read this recently and I wondered quite a lot about how this book would be received by Russians and Eastern Europe, and I guess now I know! πŸ™‚ I get why this would feel less original to someone more familiar with this kind of mythology, but I did adore the wintery descriptions too and I’m glad it reminded you of Estonia πŸ˜€ Ahh I so agree about Anna and Konstantin! And I loved the blending of paganism and Christianity. And the atmosphere and mc were totally gorgeous!! Awesome review!! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one fairy-tale’ish story that sounds truly marvelous. I do love how it was a bittersweet joy for you thought. Coming from someone who indeed shares some culture with Russia, this does inspire great confidence in me that the story is one that was well-written and brilliantly delivered. I do love the sound of this book and would totally be down to try it out some day if I ever get my hands on a copy. Great review, Liz! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lashaan! πŸ™‚ Indeed, the folklore and cultural detail was pretty nicely done and even though the history in between Estonia and Russia is rather dark, I cannot but admire the richness of the folklore and culture… It matters more than politics… πŸ™‚ I hope you do get a chance to read this someday, I think you’ll really enjoy it πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I also wasn’t blown away by it but for different reasons, mostly because I wasn’t hooked on the story. It was well-written though and I agree Arden does a great job of describing the winter and cold, snowy scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic review Stan ❀ I think you captured the essence of Vasya prefectly to be quiet honest. I admit I am a rapidly growing fan of Russian folklore but overall this was all about the atmosphere and a simple, splendid message. Your review serves up those points splendidly here. I found this one to be completely immersive and am currently finding the same to hold true of the sequel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trang, I think you’re going to enjoy this book a lot πŸ™‚ It truly is worth your time and the settings and atmosphere are really well written… Enjoy Vasya’s adventures! πŸ˜‰ Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it πŸ™‚

      Like

    • Cheers, Drew! πŸ™‚ Yeah, it’s quite a solid use of folklore and staying true to the culture and building an interesting story around it… Kinda makes one jealous of author’s imagination! πŸ™‚

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  6. fantastic review , I myself have to review this book , but I’m just too busy in doing things not related to book reading or blogging . I really liked this book , sad to hear it was a bit underwhelming to you but I guess your familiarity and my unfamiliarity with the folk lore are the reasons for our differing levels of ‘whelmed’ .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rash! πŸ™‚
      Oh man, are you still totally rushed off your feet (figuratively speaking)?
      I am glad you enjoyed the book yourself… I think you’re right about why our levels of ‘whelmed’ differ, and yet truly I could find no fault with the book. Honestly? I am a bit jealous of readers who are not in the know with Russian folklore, it must have been such a great experience to read πŸ™‚ I look forwrad to your review and… most importantly- take care and remember to take a break for yourself! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes , still very much living a life filled with coffees , studying and work , lots of it . I have however been approved for a holiday for the month of January , so really counting the days now (47 days more to go ) . I have about 4 books to review , but I must post a review for Hidden face first and before 25th of this month so working on that during my break

        Liked by 1 person

        • Woohoo, January can’t come quick enoigh. Gosh, that will be a well deserved break for you! πŸ™‚ I hope you enjoy πŸ™‚

          Hidden Face- I just started reading it- will keep an eye out for your review! πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know anything about Russian folklore, sounds like I’d be in for a treat! Vasya sounds like a brilliant character.. I don’t know how you do it, I’m normally not attracted to these kind of stories but you always make them sound so good, so that I actually want to read them. One day I might become a true fantasy reader and it’ll be down to you! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that is a compliment to a book blogger! Thank you Inge! πŸ’–
      I think you actually would enjoy this book/series what with the vivid settings, etc but if you do decide to try out fantasy someday then I would be most interested in how you found it to be ☺ it would be some leap from crime/thrillers to fantasy! πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What an absolutely beautiful review. I adored this book and am looking forward to reading the sequel. Yer post evoked the memories of reading the book. As someone who hates the cold and snow, I found the emotions and descriptions around the cold to be compelling and lyrical. It almost made me feel like I was cold. It’s in me top ten books of the year so far.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t read it, but it sounds wonderful and I definitely want to read it. You have written about it so interestingly. But about missing “a good snowy, freezing-my-ass-off kind of winter” (I love this description), then I also miss them. And I still live in Estonia. Lately our winters are mix of dampness, grayness and mud. :S πŸ˜€

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