The Bear and the Nightingale
By Katherine Arden
Publisher Del Rey
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale
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 was my first You Choose, I Read selection. I have to confess, that there was a certain amount of internal joy when I saw this title pop up on Rafflecopter, as it has been on my TBR for some time.
Russian folklore is something I have only recently been introduced to. But during my short time of acquaintance, I have discovered a deep appreciation for it. It is an area I plan to explore with every given opportunity.
For those of you who happen to be less familiar than myself with the folklore and Vasilisa, she is a traditional Russian fairy tale character. The differentiating quality of this particular young female protagonist is that instead of requiring rescue as we typically encounter in older fairy tales, she is better known for setting out on her own. She often overcomes a series of obstacles to defeat the villain. And here we are presented with another beautiful rendition of such tale.
Vasilisa has a hidden gift. One that she dares not share with others. She can communicate with the spirits of the forest and house. But when a newly arrived priest and her stepmother put a halt to the honoring the household spirits, things take a sudden turn. Winter settles in hard and the land fails to produce and provide. Lives are at risk and evil that has been contained within the forest quickly encroaches. Now Vasilisa will expose her “talent” in effort to save her family and land.
For two reasons in particular, The Bear and the Nightingale pulled me deep within its pages and refused to release me.
- Exemplary storytelling.
- Adult fairy tale/retelling.
Character development was certainly among The Bear and the Nightingale’s list of shining accomplishments. I was not prepared for the fondness that I would discover for Vasya (Vasilisa). Like an ugly duckling coming into her own, she is resilient and bold. Her growth and evolution easily rival those of any female character I have encountered over the last year. She commands respect and effortlessly fills those ever strong-willed and determined shoes you might be familiar with if you have experienced Russian folklore. Her brazen and spirited attitude in the face of constant adversity makes her as memorable as she is admirable.
The plot invites you in and promises to satisfy. All necessary components are in place and come together beautifully to create a unique and fascinating experience. The combination of Christianity intermingled among homes that still held Pagan beliefs proved to create a setting ripe with potential that the author did not neglect. Learning of each Slavic Spirit and how the household placated them was an intriguing facet that added a welcomed touch of culture and provided an appreciated depth and richness to the story .
Arden spares no want for detail while creating an enticing world that delivers all one could desire of a fairy tale. Expectations are exceeded. Saturated with folklore and fantasy, she has taken classic storytelling to new heights. We are thrust into a culturally rich and atmospheric read that is so immersive you find yourself hard pressed to walk away.
With a gratifying conclusion that left me wanting more, The Bear and the Nightingale is now one of my top reads for 2017. Recommending this delightful gem to all fans of fairy tales.
Meet The Blogger Who Recommended This Book
Stephanie is no stranger in the book community. She can be found at Teacher of YA, blogging and reviewing YA titles while sharing valuable feedback regarding books in the classroom setting.
I recently asked Stephanie 5 questions to get to know a little bit more about her and her blogging. Here is what she had to say:
1. What is your one favorite genre?
If you look at my blog, you know I’m pretty much strictly YA, but I also prefer mainly fantasy and science fiction YA, as well as dystopian. Every once in a while I will read a contemporary but it has to be pretty darn compelling as I have enough real life in front of me every day: I don’t need the feels. I need the adventure and the romance on other planets or with zombies lol!
2. How many books do you read a week on average?
This fluctuates a lot: I used to be able to read about 5 a week, but with life and work I usually get to 2 now…and with BookCon I’m down to 1 this week. My goal is usually 100 in a year so I try to make that. Life does get in the way sometimes!!
3. How long have you been blogging?
I have almost reached my one year! Wow, it goes by so quickly. I think the exact date I started was July 13, so I’ll have to do a big giveaway on that day! I have limited funds but I do have books…and people have been so great that I want to give back the best I can.
4. What is one book (aside from The Bear and the Nightingale) that you feel everyone should read?
The Giver quartet: It was my favorite and most people have only read the first book…I didn’t even know she wrote the rest until years and years later. She wrote the sequel in 2000 (sorry a kid came in with donuts to the bookstore and I had to buy one for a dollar and then throw away one he dropped on the ground! 🤣)…anyway, she wrote the sequel in 2000 when I was in high school and wasn’t reading. I jumped at the chance to read them when I got back into reading and I think it completes and explains Jonah’s journey so much more than just the first book. Please read the whole quartet!!
5. What is one thing you want other bloggers to know about yourself?
That I almost pulled that dropped donut out of the trash just now? No I’m kidding!
I don’t like to share too much bc I’m so shy, but I think it’s important.
When I was younger, my family was perfect. It was mom the homemaker and dad the lawyer and 2.5 kids (we will round to three since technically there WERE three of us, but there was a six year gap between my older sister and myself). It was wonderful.
Then they got divorced.
And it was the nastiest craziest divorce you’d ever seen. It should have been on Jerry Springer. Little did I know my parents were both on drugs. I kept up appearances and school and books were my refuge. Until drugs claimed me as well.
I thought I was a loser and I drifted for years. I don’t like to talk about that time but I learned a lot. When I hit bottom, my mom invited me to Michigan and I jumped at the chance…after getting straight, I went back to school. I started reading again. I became the lovable nerd you know today. And I started a blog. And I am so grateful that so many people care about what I have to say.
I can’t believe now I teach kids that were my critical age – the age I fell out of love with reading. I want them (and you) to know that nothing defines you. You are a living contradiction and you will always change and grow. Who you are today (student, reader, single, unemployed, depressed, lonely, scared, or junkie) does not define you forever. I mean, how many people who know me would have thought I lived in Sky Harbor airport for a week? How many would have thought I am shy and deal with anxiety myself, daily?
I shared this crazy personal info (maybe too personal but it’s better than “I’m a huge ice cream fan” as a “get to know me” question…it’s just not real or important….though I do love me some ice cream) because I feel you should know that we don’t always have it all together in the beginning and we all have doubts and desires about ourselves and our blogs: we think ARCs mean we are important and our page views mean we matter. But if you have friends that know you and love to read your content, that’s all I care about.
Let’s just share our love of books! ️
I hope Danielle loves The Bear and the Nightingale, btw. I was honored to get a copy at BookCon bc it just released in paperback! I think it’s a great book and you all should read it!
Hopefully I’ll see you all voting for her next read!
Thank you Stephanie, for the wonderful recommendation!