The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden | Book Review

“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives.”

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.

“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”

This book is magical. Fall into the lands of Russ and experience the stories told between its inhabitants. The Bear and the Nightingale is a Russian folklore re-telling, but to me is was just a whole new adventure I never thought I would embark on.
In this story we follow the story of Vasya, a spirited young girl who lives in a village where they honor the spirits with offerings for protections. Vasya is special because she can see and speak to these spirits. Unfortunately, these spirits begin to suffer along with the villagers when a priests comes to spread the new religion of the new God. A new evil is rising, ready to consume everything in its path…and only Vasya can save them all..
I personally don’t know a single Russian folklore, so this retelling filled me with curiosity and want for more. Especially with Katherine Arden’s story telling style. She doesn’t just tell you a story but she poetically paints you a picture.
If that isn’t beautiful then I don’t know what is. Her gorgeous writing weaves the plot and the world building together so flawlessly that you do not realize the difference between plot and world building. The subtleness Arden creates in her writing is award-worthy. Although there are moments that it feels like the story is dragging on because it may be confused with her world building.
“In the space between one breath and the next, the wind told him a tale: of life and death together, of a child born with the failing year. After and fainter, like an echo, the stranger heard a roar and crash, as of wave on rock. For the barest instant in the reeking hall, he smelled sun and salt and wet stone.”
I want to gush about all the amazing parts of this book, but I do not want to spoil the experience of reading this book…to anyone.
It is fresh. It is new. It is magical.
My Rating: 5/5
GR Rating: 4.18/5

“You will walk a long road,” said Morozko. “If you have not the courage to meet it, better—far better—for you to die quiet in the snow. Perhaps I meant you a kindness.”


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