I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
The Bear and the Nightingale
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 nearer, 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.
Sleep eluded me. My site’s tagline of Turn on the light; read all night rang true for me as I sat and read this lovely story from start to finish. I just could not put it down. Fantasy, magic and fairy tales collide to bring us this very real heroine, Vasya. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a wonderful debut that will stay with me for a long time. Read the rest of my review below.
Fairy tales come true….
Well, sort of. The opening scenes of the story shed light on the cold, dank, and dark weather that Vasya’s family live in. Although we are not introduced to Vasya until later, her family keeps warm by their big household oven telling fairy tales to pass the time. I just could not get over how easily I was drawn into the story; both the dark fairy tales, and the story of Vasya.
Magic is everywhere…
Vasya is a little different than her other siblings. She’s wild, can see spirits (and speak with them), is carefree, and ugly. Sounds harsh, but with the amount of times that everyone thinks that about her, you just start getting used to it. She’s not your typical heroine. We are slowly introduced to different characters called the domovoi- guardians-spirits of the household, a succubus, vampires, and demons. Sounds like a lot, but trust me it all becomes like one big fairy tale as the story goes on. It’s not pretty, but it keeps you on your toes. Most of the story revolves around her village and the forest that is full of mysterious happenings, with a tree that harbors a secret, to the lake that has the succubus.
Vasya finds herself chosen as savior to all the domovoi as religion becomes first and foremost to the village. The fear of God is instilled into the villagers and the domovoi become weaker as they are no longer paid tribute. It was a sad affair and without this little spirits, evil becomes strong and bad things start happening all round. Tensions run high and she is labeled as a witch. Ignorance almost destroys everyone and Vasya is left to fend for herself.
“Sleep is cousin to death, Vasya,” he murmured over her head. “And both are mine.”
Just a little note:
- Lots of words that I didn’t understand, but there is a glossary at the end and you can get the gist of the meanings easy enough through the text.
- Characters had a lot of nicknames and pet names, so it was a little hard following sometimes.
- Not sure if there is another book after this, but I kind of wish there was an epilogue or something, because it ended abruptly.