Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Published by: Del Rey (January 17, 2017)
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
The Bear and the Nightingale was on my list of most anticipated debuts. The blurb sounded fascinating, and it was recommended for fans of The Night Circus and Uprooted. Both of which I love. So, I knew I was going to have to pick this up. And, I was not disappointed.
This story follows a young girl names Vasilisa who lives on the edge of the Russian wilderness with her family. I love Vasya as a protagonist. She’s a bit wild and completely uninterested in the traditional female roles being pushed upon her.
“Her eyes and mouth were too big for the rest of her. Olga called her frog, and thought nothing of it. But the child’s eyes were the color of the forest during a summer thunderstorm, and her wide mouth was sweet.”
Life is hard in Russia, but Vasilisa manages to find joy in nearly everything. She especially loves the fairy tales her nurse tells them at night next to the warm stove. One of her favorites is that of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. But, when Vasya’s mother dies, her father takes a new wife. And, her stepmother has no patience for the “old ways” and is quick to beat any rebellion out of her new stepdaughter. But, when a new threat is exposed, it will be up to Vasilisa to stop it.
“I?” said Morozko. “I am only a story, Vasya.”
This story is haunting and beautiful and full of magic. And, while there is an overall plot to this novel, don’t go into it expecting lots of fast-paced action or adventure. Rather, you are going to get an insightful and detailed account of life for Vasya and her family in Russia. You will watch her grow and change and challenge those around her. You will come to love some characters and hate others. Kathrine Arden manages to convey this story with so much heart. And the dichotomy between the beauty and brutality of winter is so well done.
“Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”
But, seriously that ending. (No spoilers – I promise.)
You know how there are endings that just come out of nowhere? And everything isn’t summed up, and you still have questions that haven’t been answered? And, it leaves you feeling completely unsatsified? This isn’t one of those books.
And, you know how there are those endings that plan everything out? And, maybe you get an epilogue with a view of your characters in the future so you know they live happily ever after? This isn’t one of those books either.
What this book manages to do is give you just enough to make you happy, but also leave you wanting more. I loved it.
I have heard that this is going to be the first installment in a trilogy rather than a standalone. And, honestly. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I love this world. And, I love these characters. And, I loved the ending. So, I’m a little nervous about what comes next. But, I thoroughly enjoyed Katherine Arden’s writing and the folklore she’s exploring so I will definitely be picking up Book 2.