The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published: January 10th, 2017
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
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. 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.
“In Russian, Frost was called Morozko, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachon, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black mid-winter who came for bad children and froze them in the night.”
This story left me breathless. I won’t lie it took me a moment to get into it and usually I take a star or a half a star away but the outcome was so fantastic I had to give it five stars. The Bear and the Nightingale was something that really enchanted me from the deep-winter setting to our iconic heroine. The story follows Vasya a wild maiden who longs to be free of the bonds put on her gender and claim her fate as her own. She is more powerful than even the readers can understand at first and many people try to dictate her future but Vasya always creates her own destiny. She lives in a village full of magic and monsters at the edge of the Russian wilderness that are there to protect them from the sleeper. Her stepmother threatens all the demons very existence and refuses to appease them so darkness starts to threaten her village. Plus the arrival of a new priest challenges the people’s beliefs and endangers them further. It is only Vasya and her gifts that can save the village but she faces many obstacles and a lot of doubtful people. A story about beautiful folk magic, faith, and gender in society told in third person POV. This story will enrapture you to the very end.
“Solovey will take me to the ends of the earth if I ask it. I am going into the world, Alyosha. I will be no one’s bride, neither of man nor of God. I am going to Kiev and Sarai and Tsargrad, and I will look upon the sun on the sea.”
1) Russian Tale/Setting
“I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.”
The story was rich with so much Russian folk tale and culture. It is a fairytale set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia. What I love about a story is being transported to the location of the book and Katherine Arden did just that. I felt the bone-chilling cold, I saw the snow falls and the green trees and I loved it. Vasya’s village was in the Northern woods of Rus and it was filled with magic and horror. I loved the authenticity of Russian names and the description of Russia’s clothing, architecture, the religious aspect, the folklore tales, the winters, the scenery and everything. I could literally hear their accent as I read it was just so beautiful. I can’t even describe how beautiful it all sounded as I read this story.
“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives.”
Katherine Arden’s writing is magical, whimsical, descriptive, and filled with stunning prose and wonders. I would visit this village just based off of her writing. The story has a successful, superstitious, and magical atmosphere. Everything about her writing style was captivating and rewarding.
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
Vasya is one of the most magnificent female characters that I have read about. She is a hero is every sense of the word. She is captivating (as you will see in the story as she is called ugly numerous times but many people are simply captivated by her), strong (page 204), feisty, stubborn, kind, good-hearted, powerful, adventurous, strong-minded, Spitfire, wild and rugged like the woods and that is where she is most at home. Vasya is the very setting and nature of the story. She makes her own decisions and she is incredibly brave. She reminds me of Merida. She is the essence of a woman finding her own fate and breaking out of the roles society places on a woman. She will look a man straight on, she can ride better than any men, she saves a whole village and takes on the evil threatening her village. The only reason the men don’t know how to handle her is that they want a pliant blushing woman who doesn’t think for herself and that is not her and she refused to be caged.
I love her brother Alyosha because he understood her and never made her feel less. He knew how strong she was and how strong minded as well. I love how he loved her and he would probably protect her to the end of the earth. I loved how on page 150 he snorted at his fathers’ comments because Alyosha knew how free-spirited his sister was. Also, page 163 and his statement about Kyril proves how much he loves his sister and how much he has her back. Her father was an interesting character because he seemed a bit lost. He didn’t know how to handle his daughter but he loved her despite everything. I just wish at times when he said certain things or her stepmother the author had Vasya say something. Her stepmother got the ending she deserved and I needed it to happen much earlier because she was so annoying and I love how her daughter Irina loved Vasya.
I loved the frost demon Morozko. He was mysterious and just awesome and I feel something brewing between him and Vasya and I AIN’T MAD AT IT!!!! I want to see more of him in book two and apparently, you do which makes me happy because I need more of Mr. Frosty.
This is the start of a fantastic trilogy and I NEED The Girl in the Tower like today. If you love magic, fantasy, strong-willed woman, frost kings, trilogies, retellings, culture, and everything good in books then you need to read this book.