The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy, #1
Pages: 346
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: January 10th 2017

      “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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“The moon was little thicker than a crescent, the light a glitter of blue. Vasya ran, with a panic she could not understand. The life she had led made her strong. She bolted and let the cool wind wash the taste of fear from her mouth.”

Katherine Arden captivates with her storytelling in her debut fantasy The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya grows up in a family that belongs to two worlds. In a time where devotion to the old gods is dying, Vasya must hide her ability to see the old ones, but her gift may be what saves her as a darkness slowly descends upon the land. Her new stepmother and a recently arrived priest believe these creatures to be demons and are determined to rid the people of their devotion to said gods, but in so doing, they will put everyone in danger. As Vasya grows older, it becomes clear that her journey will bring her closer to Morozko, a demon of winter, but whether he offers help or death is uncertain.

Arden’s novel may be slow-paced for some, but for those who enjoy the journey of a tale and love an intricately woven story, The Bear and the Nighingale unfolds delicately and rewardingly. The novels opens before Vasya is even born where characters like her mother, whom she never gets to know, remain important players in a larger story. With eloquent descriptions that bring the bitter cold of Vasya’s world to life, allow the magic of old to seep through its pages, and takes the reader on an epic journey, Arden’s writing is an utter delight.

I loved how we as readers get to see Vasya grow up. As the world around her is concerned with more dire matters, Vasya grows up wanting to be a part of her older siblings’ lives but is always being told she is too young. Even as a child, she is willful and astute, her eagerness and unabashed openness is sometimes regarded with offense. Her stepmother regards her with barely contained scorn. Her potential beaus are shaken by her audacity and strength. The pious priest Konstantin, takes every opportunity to remind Vasya that she must turn to God and forsake old beliefs. Vasya, despite the disapproval of those around her, remains a strong and able heroine. Brave and selfless, Vasya is a character who is hard to forget and one worthy of admiration.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a wondrous tale of one girl’s strength in the midst of a cruel world and the power of sacrifice. Vasya is a protagonist who is easy to love and with every step she takes, you as a reader feel like you are taking it with her. Characters like the enigmatic Morozko are both dangerous and magnetic, making you want more. With this debut, Arden has secured herself as an author to pay attention to.



16 thoughts on “The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

  1. I like how this novel sounds very modern, but it also uses that same period of change that we read in many other fantasy novels: when some characters are pagan, but Christians are becoming the majority. I’ve seen three types of stories around this shift in faith (usually in a setting that’s not really Western but is supposed to mimic it): everyone is pagan, there are some pagans and some Christians but everyone does their own thing, and Christians kill off the last of the “magic” pagans know to be real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read several fantasies where there is a war (too strong a word?) between honoring old gods and Christianity’s growing influence. In this novel, there is a monarchy that has embraced Christianity, but the people themselves haven’t quite converted. The protagonist’s stepmother is devout, but it’s mostly due to her fear of the old gods (whom she sees). She and everyone else thinks she’s delusional and her faith is a way to explain what she sees.


  2. I’m glad you enjoyed this one! I liked it a lot, as well, but was also a bit underwhelmed by it, mostly because my expectations were enormous, and they weren’t fully met. I’m currently reading the sequel, and I’m struggling so badly, because, my god, book amnesia is a real and painful as heck thing…. sooo I’m totally lost when it comes to the supporting characters lol. Fantastic review!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had high expectations too, but ultimately, really enjoyed it. Book Amnesia is the worst. I’d love it if a summary of the previous book was included at the beginning of a sequel. I will have to pick up the sequel soon before I forget everything. Thank you!


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