Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Format: Hardcover, 322 pages
Published: January 10th 2017
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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.
There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, but all in all, it just wasn’t for me; I had a difficult time making it to the end.
What I loved most about The bear and the nightingale was the whimsical, truly fairy-tale like feel it has. The writing is gorgeous and lyrical, the tone and the setting was immersing and the depiction of Russia felt authentic. Arden really did an amazing job with this retelling when it comes to atmosphere. The Russian setting, the winter, coupled with the dark, fantastical elements…just so gorgeous. If you love retellings with an authentic feel of a fairy-tale then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it much more than I did.
Vasilisa, our main protagonist, is a wild, free spirit and I really enjoyed following along on her magical journey starting from a very young age. The mythical creatures and the magical aspect of the novel were intriguing and dark and a bit creepy, which I love.
The biggest problem for me was the distanced way the story was told. You don’t get to really connect with the characters; it felt like seeing only the surface of the story and so I had a hard time genuinely caring for the characters or the plot, aside from curiosity as to how things would wrap up. I also felt like the same kind of distance dulled the connections between the characters themselves. There is a large emphasis on family and community, and although it was shown in a subtle, almost nostalgic way, it didn’t feel solid. I didn’t feel the care and the love. I didn’t see the connection between them and I wasn’t able to connect to any of them. That was frustrating for me because characters are usually the key points when it comes to me enjoying a book.
Aside from that, the pacing was a bit too slow. I had a hard time finishing it because it felt like slugging through somewhere in the middle; nothing was happening. And we get POVs from other people, not just Vasilisa and her family, which I didn’t like. The varrying POVs just made me feel more detached from the story because I didn’t get to spend enough time with the main characters.
The book picks up in the last half of the book. The creepy aspect amps up and I just loved that. I also really enjoyed the way the story wraps up and sets up for a sequel. Makes me want to read the next book even though I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I would’ve liked. Overall, a great read for fairytale lovers, but lacking in some ways for me personally.