The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Fairy Tale
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
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.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fairy tale type of historical fantasy set in medieval times in an area that is now part of Russia. To be honest, in the beginning I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy the heavy Russian type flavor of this book. I had a hard time getting into the writing style at first and it was slow for around 50 pages or so. Eventually though, I ended up very engrossed in this story. I also had the pleasure of buddy reading this with a great group of people that included the wonderful Basia who answered lots of questions and offered lots of help with the different Russian names and words used in the book. I enjoyed learning about the diminutives that are added to names and what they mean. I felt like I understood the customs and the people so much more thanks to her, and I now know how to pronounce Pyotr correctly :)
While I enjoyed this book a lot I wasn't too crazy about what it seemed to be saying about Christianity. Whatever the author's intentions may have been, I chose to just look at it as a criticism of the medieval church and some of the corruption that was present there and not Christianity as a whole. What I did like were the rich descriptions. I felt like I was really there. I loved the description of the hut and the big oven that the family would sleep on during cold winter nights.
The cold winter wilderness really came to life and I could imagine how cold it was in the winter and how hungry they were when the food supplies were low. I also really enjoyed the folklore. I loved the kitchen spirit who lived in the oven and protected their home and the one in the stable who protected the horses. And the horses were another favorite part of the book for me.
Over all this was a really good book, its biggest strength being the fairy tale aspect of it. If a few more questions had been answered, this would have been a wonderful stand-alone, but I've learned it will be a trilogy. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but as of right now I plan on reading the next book.
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