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.
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published January 10th 2017 by Del Rey
Four and a half stars: A beautiful, lyrical, haunting tale perfect for winter.
Vasilisa has always known she was different. Her large, green eyes see everything, including the hidden creatures that protect the hearth and home, the ones that guard the stables, the bath house and the spirits that are present in the woods. Vasilisa is wild like the woods and unafraid. Things begin to change when her father brings home her new stepmother. Vasilisa's stepmother can see these creatures too, but she is afraid of them, and shuns them as demons. When a new priest comes to town, fear mounts as he calls them to cast out their beliefs and shun the spirits that have always protected them. Once the household spirits are abandoned, danger creeps in, and death isn't far behind. Vasilisa is the only one who is fit to save them, but how can she protect those she loves if she is danger of being labeled a witch?
What I Liked:
- The Bear and the Nightingale is a gorgeous and unique story that will sweep you away. This is a book that requires time and patience as it's story is vast and detailed, but once you let it sink it's teeth into you, the hours will slip away. This is a beautifully written book, perfect for the long winter months.
- The writing is amazing. I loved the descriptions, the depth of the detail, and the author's imaginative story telling. This one blends the old Russian ways with a bit of folklore and supernatural. This is Ms. Arden's debut book, and I am impressed. I will be watching this author, she is superbly talented.
- What makes this story shine is the setting. The tale relies heavily on the atmospheric setting, and the author does a tremendous job in transporting you back in time to the cold winters in Russia. I could almost feel the bite of winter nipping at the doors as the family huddled for warmth atop the giant oven. I loved immersing myself in the old tales and customs of the Russian folk.
- This book is heavy on Russian folklore and fairy tales as well as the old ways before Christianity took hold and crushed the pagan beliefs. I loved exploring the beliefs and customs of the people and learning more about the Russian culture.
- Vasilisa is one of the most formidable and interesting female characters I have run across in a long while. I liked that the author didn't make her a gorgeous maiden, instead she was rather homely, and yet there was something enigmatic about her. I loved her fierce spirit and her determination, and her loyalty to those she loved. Loved her! Then there is Morozko, a character that stole my imagination. He was fascinating. I want to tell you more, but I can't reveal his secrets. You must learn them for yourself.
- This is a complex and winding story that requires time and patience, but it is well worth the time and effort. It has been a long time since I completely got lost in a story. I highly urge you to grab this one and cuddle up with it during the long winter months.
And The Not So Much:
- As I mentioned this is a complicated story, and I was a bit frustrated that things didn't always fit into to the story and make sense. I wondered after finishing if certain things had been edited out. For instance, there is a big focus on Sasha, Vasilisa's older brother and her sister, Olga, early on in the story, and the two move to Moscow and are almost forgotten. Then there was a strange insertion way later in the book when Sasha sends a messenger to his father begging help in a war, and then that story line is completely abandoned. Why were Sasha and Olga forgotten? I thought they were going to play important roles. There were other things that didn't quite fit, and sometimes the flow of the tale was choppy.
- I loved learning about the many different spirits that protected the people, but I also found that I needed more information. I would have loved for more depth and detail on these spirits. I wished the author had included more of the folklore and stories around them. There is a glossary at the end, but it would have been nice to have more of that detail in the story. I also wished for more of the old nurse's tales, they were fascinating.
- The pace at time wanders and meanders along, and the reader is almost half way through the story before the conflict begins to reveal itself. You really have to be patient with this one.
- I have to admit, I was disappointed that there wasn't a romance. I kept expecting to be swept away by a torrid love affair, but sadly it doesn't happen.
- The ending is a bit perplexing and open, it is up to the reader to decide.
- Finally, reader be warned there is a heavy emphasis on religion. The story is about Christianity and overzealous religious fantastic trying to instill fear in order to get the villagers to give up their pagan ways. I hated this part of the story.
The Bear and the Nightingale is ambitious and vast tale that explores the legend and folklore of Russia in a bygone era. This is a gorgeous book with a haunting story and unforgettable characters. I loved this one, and found myself completely lost in the story. However, this is a book that requires time and patience as it takes its time to slowly build and unfurl its secrets. You must have patience and ambition for this one, and if you do take the time to immerse into the story, you will be rewarded. This will undoubtedly end up on my favorites list.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review.