The Bear and The Nightingale
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.
Realism within a Russian fairy-tale unlike the usual reciprocal.
This story starts of in a magical winter setting with the tale of Frost being told. Unlike the way we know Frost, this tale is of much grandeur and accompanies the characters and setting along the entirety of the book without them being part of the original tale. Only as you read along, do you realize that there is a divide between believing in this fairy tale or not and the fate of the characters, as they choose their path.
Since there are a great number of reviews already about this book, I won't go into details. I do however want to mention my thoughts on this book. Until perhaps the last decade, European children, myself included, grew up very deeply rooted into fairy tales. Read to children very young, these are the first exposures to literacy and are well supported throughout the preschool or Kindergarten years. Old movie and cartoon productions from the Eastern side of Europe heavily accompany if perhaps not dominate(-d) the market with their fairy tales, and therefore I enjoy these magical kind of books.
I think this book is getting mixed reviews in part because not everyone has grown up with old tellings or tales. It may not have the wow factor or the action that is sought out by today's reader or youth, besides reading tastes of course, but I very much appreciated the book and it's in depth atmosphere. It usually intrigues me very much, when I come across a book that makes me feel like "home" as in when I was a child. Therefore, I like to dig a bit into who the author is or what their background is. And I was not disappointed nor surprised what I found out about Katherine Arden. Among a few others in this genre, she get's it and did a great job with this novel.
So, why did I not rate this book higher on Goodreads? Well, for me the story was just slightly too long in parts and perhaps a bit repetitive. And although I enjoyed it very much, it felt a little short of evoking high or low emotions in me. It started of very nicely and had me at Frost's tale, but slowly steeped off and never picked it much up again.
In all, I am recommending to give this book a try. If for nothing else but to get a feel for a European fairy-tale. It is definitely something else, and I hope to get my hands on to Arden's next book in the series.