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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Hey all, Dani here,

Happy Book Birthday to a lovely debut based on Russian folklore. I had the privilege of receiving an egalley of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are wholly my own.



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.

My Thoughts

Rating: 4.5 stars.

This was a magical read and I was very intrigued by all the elements of Russian folklore weaved into the story. I suppose it should also be mentioned for anyone unfamiliar with Russian based stories that most of the characters are referred to by three or four different names/nicknames. So while it is an enjoyable read, someone with an interest in Russian culture or history or folklore might find this to be a more interesting read.

My only issue with the whole novel was that it moved a bit slow at times, but even the slow moments had nice development of the setting, characters, and overall plot. There are several times where the story will jump ahead a few years. When the story begins Vasya/Vasochka/Vasilisa hasn’t even been born, and by the end of the book she is almost fifteen.

But I was so interested in Vasya, and in this whole idea of Morozko as a character. I haven’t done much research into Russian beliefs or folktales, but Morozko or Frost is sort of like their version of Jack Frost, but he has also apparently gone through several incarnations, changing a bit each time. And I’ve found out that this is supposed to be at least a trilogy, so there will likely be more development and such as we progress.

The writing style was interesting to me. I did feel like it was a bit magical and wondrous, and I found myself swept away by the tales told by and the lives lived by the characters. There is also a wonderful plot in this book that is basically the old way of the gods and many creatures and demons and such, and the new way of Christianity. So much of this book centers on that, and I found myself cheering for Vasya as she continued to honor the household spirits and the old ways, even as others tried to make her change to this new way that believed they were devils and demons.

It may take a little bit of time to get fully invested in this novel, but it was a great debut novel and definitely worth the read.

Where to Buy

You can pick this book up anywhere books are sold: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Book Depository, or your local independent bookstore.

4 thoughts on “Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden”

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