Written by: Katherine Arden
Published: January 10, 2017 by Del Ray (Random House)
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: 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
*** I received an advance copy of this from the publisher via Netgalley. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***
I was instantly attracted to The Bear and the Nightingale when I learned about it. It's definitely my kind of read. A lush fantasy world amid a harsh historical setting, and a modern fairy tale kind of plot... how could I resist? I couldn't. So I was so happy to get a review copy from the publisher and dive right in. And while I really liked it, it didn't blow me away.
For one thing, this is not the kind of book you can sink your teeth into and power through (unless you get the audiobook, but more on that later). It's one of those books that is very slowly paced. It draws you in and slows you down as you take in every word and experience. If you like those kinds of books you will definitely love this one. I'm usually not big on books that aren't more plot-focused and I still really liked this. Usually if a book takes me weeks to read it I consider DNFing but I never did that here. I was willing to give it the time and I'm glad I did. The ending had great payoff even though it took it's time to get there.
Probably the best thing about this world though was the setting and world. This is a book that relies very heavily on it's atmosphere, and honestly that is exactly what it should do because seriously, the atmosphere is fantastic. It's one of those worlds that is full of magic and mystery but in a subtle kind of way. The fantasy creatures and magical elements incorporate a lot of folklore and fairy tales so it kind of gives off that kind of vibe within the story. The other thing that gave it a great atmosphere was the setting. The Russian wilderness setting contrasted so well with the fantasy elements in such an interesting way. And it felt subtly dark as well. It's one of those fantasy reads where just the setting makes the stakes really high. I love books that feel reminiscent of classic fairy tales in their world and atmosphere and this was one of those books.
As far as the plot goes, it was good but nothing that super impressed me. It definitely did build to a thrilling ending full of action and mystery but as previously stated it took it's sweet time to get there. This is a book full of exposition. It is lousy with exposition. I often complain about how I don't like books with a lot of exposition and you should add this one to that list. It was just so much set up. You knew there was exciting things coming but the plot development kept being like, "but first, here's a thing to learn." I just wish that it had gotten to the good stuff sooner.
But I did really like the characters here. The main character is Vasya, and she was amazing. Vasya is one of those strong female characters that I adore. She isn't particularly badass in a classical sense but she is tough and resourceful just as she is caring and vulnerable. What I loved about Vasya is that she had this absolute belief in the power of the magic all around her even when it even more difficult for her. And she cares so much about others that she will help them to her own detriment and that I can't help but appreciate in a heroine. But for the most part, this book was full of really dark and odious characters. There are so many threats here and all kinds of characters whose true morality and whether they are helping or harming are in question. I love those kind of characters and these ones are one of the main reasons I kept reading in the slower moments.
As I said before, it took me forever to read it and I think one of the main reasons I did eventually finish it was that on Tuesday, when the the book came out, I picked up the audiobook. And that was the best decision I have made in awhile. Because you guys, this audio was amazing. It is absolutely the kind of book that is perfectly suited to the audio format. The atmospheric world, the lush and gritty setting, the exposition and slower pacing, all things I prefer in audio. Not to mention that the narrator did an amazing job with the Russian accents making it so immersive. If you like audiobooks and want to read this book, get the audio.
On the whole this was a good read despite some things I didn't love. It's incredibly slow-paced and relies very heavily on it's atmosphere and the odious characters. It isn't a book that you can read in one sitting but it's a perfect winter read if you want to immerse yourself in something fantastical and atmospheric.
I give The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden 8.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!