The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – ARC review

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Published: January 10th 2017 by Del Rey
Genre: fantasy, historical fiction > Russia
Pages: 336p
Source: ARC from publisher via LibraryThing
Rating: ★★★★★

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.

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I devoured this book like I haven’t devoured a novel in months. It feels like my soul was starved for this story, and now I just feel hollow. I miss it. I want to reread it already.

If you have been following me for a time, you may know my struggle with Russian literature (I tried to read Anna Karenina for three entire years). This is not Russian Lit™ but it feels like it. I can’t exactly put my finger on it but this felt like every piece of Russian lit I’ve tried to read (but been completely unable to get more than halfway through). In contrast to literally every experience I’ve had with Russian lit, The Bear and the Nightingale was gripping. It held me in its teeth from page 1 and would not let go.

This was my last read of the year, finished an hour or two before midnight, and the perfect way to end the dumpster fire that was 2016. The Bear and the Nightingale was a good mix of honest, humorous, frightening, and fantastical. Vasya kicks ass and I love her and – drum roll please – she talks to horses. As soon as a girl talks to horses you have me. I’m sold.

Some parts are a little slow, which I know some people don’t like and prefer to be whisked along from page to page on a whirlwind, but it fits the cadence of the story. It’s beautifully written and flows really well. In closing, I’ll share a couple of my favorite quotes, but keep in mind I’m reviewing from an ARC copy and this may change in the final version!

We do not speak to many, and the spirit of horses does not reveal himself to anyone. There is magic in your bones. You must reckon with it.

“All my life,” [Vasya] said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ 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 got. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. […]”

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2 thoughts on “The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – ARC review

  1. Pingback: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess – review | READS to LIVE

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Books of 2016 (sort of) | READS to LIVE

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