Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 328
Series: Winternight Trilogy, #1
Published by Del Rey on January 12, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

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.

This book easily makes my top five reads of 2020. The world needs more books that infuse beautiful, lyrical prose with the deeply rich landscape of medieval Russia and a perfect melding of magic, superstition and fear. The Bear and the Nightingale is well written, captivating, and builds both swiftly and gradually at the same time. I can’t remember the last time I was hooked on every single word of a book.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous. Narrated in third person past tense and ripe with mesmerizing descriptions of old gods, new religion, villages in northern Rus’ and vibrant characters. The atmosphere this story creates is unreal. I spent every moment tightly wrapped in this blanket of amazingness. I could feel the deep frost of Russian winter in my fingertips as I turned each page. I haven’t been this absorbed in a book since – I can’t even think of a comparable book.

I loved all of the characters, especially Vasya. She was such a great character to follow through this story. She’s strong and wild, and deeply committed to her convictions and wishes only to be allowed to live her life the way she wants. A controversial way for a woman of this time to be. I even enjoyed the “evil” characters, they were wonderfully fleshed out and had more to them than just foils to Vasya.

I mean, just look at passages like this:

“I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed to me.”

I could probably go on and on about my loves but I’m going to keep it short and not dribble on. I loved this book. I can’t wait to read the second book in the series and have decided to pace myself and not devour it immediately. Well that and I’ve had a hold from my library for a while but haven’t been able to pick it up.

If this book is currently on your to-read list, drop everything and purchase, borrow, or take off your shelves and start reading – immediately. I promise you won’t regret it!

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