Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

About The Bear and the Nightingalethebearandthenightingale

Hardcover: 322 pages
Audio: 11 hours
Published: January 2017 by Random House Audio
Source: Purchased (Scribd Audiobooks)

Goodreads DescriptionAt 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.

My Review

It took me nearly two months to read this, mostly because I didn’t do a whole lot of driving. That said, though, I wasn’t super engrossed in The Bear and the Nightingale, much to my dismay. I was super excited when it came out, and I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for it. More on that in a minute.

The Bear and the Nightingale is more or less a fairytale set in the Russian wilderness. Vasilisa is a young girl who loves the woods – and who can see and interact with the house spirits. Either of those things alone would make her different, but both together make her feared and misunderstood. As the story progresses and the demons come closer, Vasilisa’s gifts become her strengths.

It’s actually a bit difficult for me to describe the story, because truthfully, there’s not much of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where The Bear and the Nightingale shines is in the world-building. Arden brings the Russian wilderness to life in a way few other writers can. Listening to this, I could easily picture the setting, even though I’ve never been to Russia and have certainly never been to Russia in the wilderness in whatever time period this book was set. (I couldn’t figure it out, but assumed it was sometime in the 1600s.)

The Bear and the Nightingale is the kind of book I’m glad I read, simply for it’s beauty and style. The best part of the book was the last hour or so (not sure what that translates to in pages, sorry!). Is it one I’d heartily recommend? Perhaps, if you’re looking for something graceful and atmospheric. If you’re looking for something gripping and thrilling – no.

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