Published by Del Rey on January 10, 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Historical
Sexual Content: Very brief references to sex
Reviewed by: Kate
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 nearly everything I wished it would be. After hearing comparisons to UPROOTED, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE had a lot to live up to, UPROOTED being one of my recent favorite fantasy books. Luckily, it was a delightful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE has a quality that I've recognized before, frequently in Robin McKinley's books - the ability to make the mundane lovely. For the majority of the book, honestly, not much happens. But in the descriptions of the everyday tasks and actions, the characters get a chance to grow and needle their way into the reader's heart. I loved Vasilisa, I loved her father and her brothers and sisters. And the characters I didn't love, I still felt a sympathy for - they weren't straight-out villains by any means (that was left to the Bear of the title) but they were complex and interesting to read about. (Though being a step-mother myself I tend to dislike the trope of the evil step-mother, and THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE was no exception to that.)
When the action did come, I was ready for it, having prepared for the entire book, basically all of Vasilisa's life. The reader watches as she learns to befriend the spirits all around her, as she learns to commune with the horses, and as she grows stronger with every day. She is a wonderful heroine in an interesting setting, where the world building was done so well you barely notice it spinning around you until you're firmly situated in the world of the book.
Taking a page from Russian history and folklore and spinning it into something more, with beautiful writing and spectacular characters, Arden's debut is quite a wonderful read. I can't wait to see what she has in store next.Series Titles:
- For another Russian folktale inspired book, try Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter.