Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy, #1
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: January 10th 2017
“Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.”
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
In a village that sits at the north of Russia, where the winter months are long, cold and cruel, tales of old magic and the Winter King are told around the fire to keep warm. It’s these tales that Vasya grows up hearing. However unlike her older siblings, unlike her father and her new stepmother, and unlike the priest sent to save their souls, these are not merely tales to Vasya, not when she can see the house spirits the stories talk of as clearly as she can see her family.
Before picking this book up I’d heard so so many things about The Bear and The Nightingale. Everyone who read this book seemed to have loved it and before reading it myself part of me loved it as well. The story follows Vasya before she’s even born; we see her grow up in a village where her people have worshiped the old ways for generations, and we watch as her brothers and sister move away and as danger moves into her home.
When the church becomes more of a presence in Vasya’s home it brings fear with it. Vasya’s people start rejecting the spirits who have kept their homes safe, kept their horses content, kept to the edges of the forest, and they let in the darkness. There’s something else out there in the woods Vasya has spent her life exploring, something waking from a long sleep and Vasya alone may not be strong enough to protect her village from what is about to come for them.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a very rich story; it took me a few chapters to fully get into it and for a while I wondered if this would end up being a book that would fail to live up to my mammoth expectations for it. However I ended up getting hooked on The Bear and the Nightingale without fully realising it, and even now long after I’ve finished I still find myself thinking of Vasya and her story.
Vasya is the hero of this story and a lot of her traits are the kind that immediately come to mind when I think of the heroes of the classic fairytales I read as a child. She’s wild and adventurous but very loyal, brave and protective. She grew up believing in the magic of the Winter King and she never stops believing, not when she can see the spirits living in her home and the woods in a way no one else can.
I never really felt connected to Vasya in a way I normally need to to enjoy a book. She was really well written and developed, I loved reading her story and was rooting for her the whole time, but it felt like there were parts of herself she was holding back. Normally this is something I’d hate, but it worked really well in this book.
As she grows up Vasya becomes held back by the expectations placed on her because of her gender and the time she lives in. She’s expected to put away childish things and become a lady. She can’t fight like her brothers or have the same independence they do, instead she is expected to marry. You can see the way the thought of the future her father sees for her weighs on her and starts to diminish her spirit as she struggles with her desire for independence with the knowledge of what her family needs from and expects of her.
None of the relationships in The Bear and The Nightingale are easy to describe but they were all incredibly written. Family dynamics are something I love in books; it doesn’t matter if they’re happy families or not as long as they’re well written, and all the different relationships in The Bear and the Nightingale were. They’re not perfect but they’re real. Vasya is the youngest of her siblings, so she watches as they outgrow her and leave home to fulfil their duties to their family.
My favourite relationships to read were that that Vasya has with her brother Alyosha and her nurse Dunya. Neither of them fully understand Vasya but they love her and accept her anyways, and try their hardest to protect her. In return Vasya not only seeks to protect them, but her whole village and the spirits they turned their backs on.
There is pretty much nothing about the world building in this book I didn’t fall in love with. The Bear and the Nightingale is written like a fairytale; the setting is full of wonder and danger, full of magic and myth. I haven’t read the original tale this book takes inspiration from, Vasilisa the Brave, but reading The Bear and the Nightingale I thought Katherine Arden wove the original Russian myths and folklore into her book incredibly well. Throughout this story I enjoyed exploring the woods with Vasya as she grew up, enjoyed meeting the spirits and learning from them the way she did, but most of all I enjoyed reading the myths that Dunya told the children in front of the fire. Through her we got a lot of the background of Morozko and the creatures of the woods, the danger that only Vasya seems aware of as the story unfolds.
Chances are if you haven’t read this yet it’s a book you’ve heard of. Everyone who’s picked up The Bear and the Nightingale has loved it and I’m no exception. The plot, the characters, the setting, the writing; everything about this book is purely beautiful, and it’s a story that will stay with you for a long time. I don’t know what to expect from The Girl in the Tower, but I know it’ll be a story I’ll quickly fall in love with.
What did you think of The Bear and the Nightingale? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.