book review

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Publisher: Del Rey

Pages: 370

Genre: Fantasy with Historical Fiction elements

Rating: 4/5

The Bear and the Nightingale follows the life of Vasilisa starting from before her birth to her being a teenager. Although, this book is set in 1400’s Russia so Vaysa (the shortened version of her name) is considered to be pretty much fully grown. Her and her family live in the outer edges of the Russian wilderness where they grow up learning the folklore of their area. They are told stories of demons and spirits who surround them and/or help them. When Vaysa is a teenager her father decides to remarry and this event, along with a new priest that comes to her village set the story in motion. Anna, the stepmother, and the priest, Konstantin, are very devout in their religion and encourage and manipulate the village to turn their back on these “foolish” stories. Vaysa’s whole life she has been able to see the household spirits that help her family and over the course of her life she has struck up a friendship with many of them. When the spirits begin to grow weak from being ignored and no more offerings being left to them it is up to Vaysa to protect her people from the malevolent demon who is growing stronger and slowly destroying the village and its people. Also during the course of her life she has unwittingly attracted the attention of another demon, Frost, who has his own agenda.

The first 10-15% of this story I had no idea what I was reading. It was a little confusing to me but also fascinating. I didn’t realize going into this that the book is set in medieval Russia which is why I was confused. Although the more I read the more I became enthralled with the historical elements of this story. The author, Arden, did an amazing job bringing this time period alive. The rich history and lush landscape are almost characters in their own right.

Another huge aspect of this story is the folklore and fantastical elements that Arden uses. I was delighted when I found out that all the mythology in this book is real and I would love to read more books based on these same lores. The cheryti (the spirit creatures) felt so real to me since Vaysa sees them and interacts with them that I was heartbroken when the people turned their backs on them. I also really loved how unapologetic Vaysa is about who she is and how she gains strength from her gifts.

I also need to mention how beautiful I found the language used in this book. It did take a small adjustment for me because this book is told in the Russian way of the same character having more than one name they are referred to. I haven’t read Russian literature in quite sometime and this book reinforced to me how much I enjoy the language.

To be honest I could probably write a whole essay about all the different aspects of this book. It is endlessly fascinating even if it did take me a little chunk of the book for me to get into it. I recommend this book to anyone but in particular for people who love The Golden Compass. I get similar vibes from both books and I can’t wait to continue on with this Winternight trilogy.



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