Sunday, May 27, 2018

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Published: January 10, 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 323

Synopsis:  A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

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.

Thoughts: Where to begin with this review. I'm a bit torn on this book. I feel like I should have liked it more than I actually did. It has almost everything that I normally really enjoy in a book - fantasy, a strong main character, and rich descriptions without being all about said descriptions. But here's the thing - this book is extremely slow.

Truly, you could say that nothing really happens for about 75% of the book. The story is mostly a lot of buildup to that final quarter when things finally start moving somewhere. I suppose for a lot of readers, that's probably fine. But for me, I began to wonder if anything even was going to happen at all, as there is a lot of promise of magical beings and some evil trying to awaken, but most of the story is spent on Vasya dealing with family issues.

Moving on from that, what was really interesting about the development of this story was how it delved into the clash between more "modern" religion (I suppose it would have been more modern at the time the book is supposed to be set) of worshipping one God figure versus the older religion of the area, mainly these little creatures that people are supposed to pay homage to in order for them to keep protecting their hearth and home. This clash is emphasized in the character of Father Konstantin, whose goal is to bring Vasya to heel, basically, and make her live in fear of God and cease her belief in the old ways. One of the main themes of this clash was the idea that fear was worse than anything else, in truth the real enemy of all, as it fed the evil and weakened the protectors.

Ultimately, I think the book has a good message and for those that like a fairy-tale like story, surely you would not be disappointed. For me personally, I craved a bit more action and intrigue. The question now becomes whether I will continue to read this trilogy. In reading the description of the second book, The Girl in the Tower, I might, just because it sounds like there is more actually happening.

Rating: 3.5/5

Buy on Amazon

What I'm Reading Next: The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth


  1. Agreed that it is slow moving at points. I read it cover-to-cover in one day (on vacation sans kids - yay!), so it was easier to overlook that. I'm reading the second book right now and it has started off really slow for me. I'm having a hard time staying interested. I'll let you know what I think when I'm finished.

    1. Yeah definitely let me know if it picks up or stays slow!!