This review is based on a complimentary book I received from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Release Date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Purchase at: Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble ◊ Book Depository ◊ Google Play ◊ Kobo
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.
For fans of Russian folklore and Brothers Grimm fairytales this will be a story to delight the senses! Take a journey to medieval Russia and fall in love with a heroine who throws off the chains that her gender imposes upon her and cuts her own path in a world filled with magic, darkness, and conflicting religious beliefs. This is a magical fairy tale for all ages.
This story starts out with a slower pace but I think that it is essential to develop the backstory necessary to carry the story through to the end. There is no doubt that the Author is an excellent researcher and has given much thought to the translation of the Russian fairy tale of Vasilisa the Beautiful collected by Alexander Afanasyev. This story is not simply a re-telling, the author gives the tale immense depth, heart, and passion which then creates a story with a life of its own.
This story is rich in comprehensive descriptions and explanations written in such a way that it would remind you of a tale being told by a fireside on a cold wintery night. It starts with a very detailed telling of the Russian family that Vasilisa is a part of, nursemaid included, with an emphasis on the life of Vasilisa and the history on her mother’s side. It is through that lineage that she has a type of magical ability that allows her to interact with what others cannot see, hear or feel. Such as spirits, demons and other beings.
As she grows she learns that although she needs to conceal her talents, she does not need to ignore them. She develops relationships with the spirits that protect her home as well as in nature which leads to some dire consequences once her new stepmother and a crazy priest come on the scene. There is time of persecution and prejudice for Vasilisa but she must do what she can to save her family, village and the world.
What some readers may find troublesome are that there are multiple perspectives presented. Practically every character gets a voice in this tale and it can get a bit confusing to keep track of everyone’s perspective. There are also multiple names for characters, you will need to play attention in order to keep the varied names assigned to the correct character. I would not be discouraged to give this novel a read though, it is just not a book you can expect to rush.
Bottom line, this is an amazing tale rich in Russian folklore and is best read when you have time to fully digest the details. No worries if you are not versed in Russian folklore though, the Author provides a glossary in the end of the book that covers most of the terms that could cause confusion or where you would need a reference.
*Thank you to LibraryThing & Random House for this ARC of The Bear and the Nightingale*