The Bear and the Nightingale
Title: The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight, #1)
Author: Katherine Arden
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey
Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.
Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.
But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
This book was a great start! I can’t wait for the last book to come out in this amazing trilogy! There is magic and lore and superstition seeped into this novel. It makes for a wonderful and enamoring read.
It did take me a little bit to get hooked on this book. It was at times hard to follow because all the characters go by variations of their names and also because I am not familiar with Russian mythology. However, once I got used to the lore and the varying names I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Vasya is an amazing character. She is just a wild child who craves adventure. All she wants to do is run around and be free. She actually reminded me of myself as a child- all I wanted to do was climb trees and play in the dirt and I was quite stubborn about it. Vasya fights tooth and nail to be able to make her own life choices and just be who she is. Her wild spirt and joy in nature are just fun to read. However, during this time, a wild, stubborn and rebellious girl like Vasya is an embarrassment to her Nobel father. Her father even goes as far as to tell Vasya that if she would have been a son he would have been so proud of her but she is a daughter and needs to act like a daughter. It is hard to watch Vasya struggle with the box her family tries to put her in. Vasya repeatedly uses the metaphor that caging a wild bird eventually kills it while referring to herself and her family's demands of her. You can't help but feel for her and her struggle to just be herself.`
I am someone who loves mythology and lore, so I loved this book. I’ve never studied Russian mythology so it was interesting to me. I loved all the different types of creatures, spirits, and demons that protected the houses, stables, forest, and river. It was enchanting to watch Vasya interact with each one and stand her ground with them just as she did with everyone else in her life. Everyone knew exactly where they stood with Vasya- it did not matter to her if you were human or creature.
I also loved the way Arden showed the battle between the old and the new gods. Something that was a very real and problematic situation during the early years of Christianity. Vasya fights hard to keep the old gods close to her heart. As with many during this time they followed the old and the new traditions but when Vasya’s new step-mother comes to the village and then a young devout priest, things change dramatically and harshly. Vasya fights for the old traditions and does not care what anyone thinks about her doing so (again, I loved that!).
Watching Vasya grow from a young feisty girl to a hardheaded young woman is thrilling. I connected with Vasya so much that I felt her frustration and annoyance with her family right along with her.
All in all, The Bear and the Nightingale was an enthralling winter fairy-tale that brings magic, fables, demons, spirits, and superstition alive. The battle of old and new is captivating. I could almost feel the winter chill and the magical atmosphere crackle around me as I read this enchanting tale. This is my favorite winter read of all time!