The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Series: #1 The Bear and the Nightingale
(According to Good Reads, the sequel is called ‘The Girl in the Tower’ and is scheduled to come out at the end of this year)
Publication Date: January 2017
Publisher: Del Ray
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.
‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ has a stunning cover that immediately catches the eye, and its interior is just as beautifully crafted and captivating. Inspired by Russian folktales, this wonderful novel tells the story of the family of Pyotr Vladimirovich and focuses in particular on his spirited daughter Vasya, who, as she grows up, must battle both with the dark forces in the mysterious, threatening wood that borders her home and with the expectations in her time of young women.
I first read this novel when it came out in January. As I was reading it I had loveliest feeling of contentment: that feeling you get when you are reading a book you know will be an absolute favourite and you are utterly immersed in the story. In the time since, I have reread ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ multiple times and each time I reread it I find more things to treasure in it.
Vasya is a brilliant heroine: strong-willed, brave and compassionate, she’s someone to whom you immediately grow attached. There’s something wonderfully liberated about her: she’s independent and determined. You cannot help but root for and admire her.
She’s joined by a cast of unique, complex and fascinating characters, including Anna, her severe and haunted stepmother, and Konstantin, who urges the people in Vasya’s community to abandon their traditional household spirits, unknowingly placing them in grave danger.
Each scene in ‘The Bear in the Nightingale’ is atmospheric and engaging. The novel is full of tension, intrigue and magic, making it impossible to put down. Overall, this is an enchanting and enveloping book – one of the best I have ever read.