Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Length: 323 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: October 3rd 2017
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.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fantasy book following Vasya, the daughter of a powerful family who has special gifts: she can see spirits. Even before her birth, her mother predicted that her daughter would have special links with the nature and indeed, even if she passed away a few moments after giving birth to her strange child, her predictions were true and her child with the ability to see more than she ought to.
However, a few years after her mother’s passing, Vasya’s dad bring home a new wife from Moscow. What he doesn’t know is that his new wife also has the sight and, unlike Vasya, she doesn’t think having spirits in her house is such a great thing to have. More than that, she thinks that they are the child of the devil and thus, decides to call for a priest from the capital. Konstantin, a very charismatic young priest then joins the household and slowly convince everyone that they should stop giving tribute to the housespirits and stop believing in childish fairytales. However, because of the lack offerings, the spirits slowly start dying even with Vasya’s efforts and they are left without protection against the real monsters roaming the snowy forest that surrounds them.
I fell in love with Arden’s prose in a few pages, the writing is lush and draws a beautiful and terrifying picture of the unforgiving Russian winter. If you want to read this book, prepare yourself for a story full of fairytales and folklore with rich characters that you can’t help but to understand (even when they are being awful!).
This book is everything I wanted Uprooted to be and more. As much as I thought Uprooted was lacking both in term of plot and characters, The Bear and the Nightingale succeeded in pretty much everything. It is a debut but I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t know that going in. The story is very slow-paced but at no points I felt like Arden was dragging the story, she just took her time introducing and building her characters to the point where I felt like I knew every single one of them. It never felt tedious or boring, on the contrary, it allowed me to have a connection with them. The same goes for the antagonists, even when they acted horribly toward Vasya, I could always understand where they were coming from and why they acted that way.
Vasya’s character is great, I think she might be one of my favorite protagonist period. Sure she’s quite stubborn but she is very independent and she’s trying her best to protect everyone around her, even people she doesn’t has any warm feelings toward. She’s feisty and mischevious but she has a big heart and she thinks before doing anything stupid. Her relationship with her siblings was wonderful and reading their banter was a great time!
I would absolutely recommend this book, it is the first in a trilogy but the story can perfectly stand on its own. I will definitely pick the sequel up soon because I want more slow burn, atmospheric and eerie books!