(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Published by Random House Publishing Group on January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Literary, Magical Realism
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.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a book I came across while scanning the shelves on NetGalley. It immediately caught my attention because of the cover but then as I read the summary I was hooked. This story is part fantasy, part historical, part fairytale and it all comes together magically.
Arden has created an atmosphere for this story that pulled me right into the winter forests of Russia. Vasilisa is the main character and while the story revolves around her and who she is / will be, the characters around her definitely push the story forward.
Vasilisa is an interesting character. She is the baby of the family so she gets away with quite a bit but she was born with a gift, which is what her mother was hoping. She can see the spirits that surround her home and village which helps her understand what is happening as she grows older and sees how things are changing. I liked Vasilisa because she stood up for herself and was willing to do anything for those she loves. Her family was the most important thing to her and she was always willing to do whatever she could to help and protect them.
There are demons and spirits that surround Vasilisa’s home and as I mentioned, she is one of only a handful of people that can see them. When her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new stepmother, things start to change for the once happy family. Anna really is an awful person. Granted she was put into a situation she never asked for but she took out her fear and anger on those around her, specifically Vasilisa, and that made me dislike her immensely. Because she could also see the spirits, Anna was a little crazy. She didn’t believe, like Vasilisa did, that they were there to help and protect, instead she thought they were all devils and because Vasilisa didn’t, Anna thought she was evil too.
When a new priest comes to the village, things start to get worse. At first he is angry that he has been sent away from his admirers in Moscow but when he gets to the small village and he realizes there is so much opportunity for him to be loved and make an impact to the village. His biggest accomplishment will be in correcting everything he sees wrong with Vasilisa.
Because the household spirits are no longer honored and supported by the family, things start to go downhill in that their crops fail, people are being attacked in the woods by strange creatures, and the village is in danger. As the protection of the village starts to fail, everyone is in danger and Vasilisa is the one who will save them all.
Another character I haven’t mentioned yet is the Winter Demon who has plans for Vasilisa. He makes appearances throughout the story and at first it is hard to tell whether he is good or bad. Honestly he could probably go either way and he definitely has an agenda in his push to get Vasilisa where he wants her.
At times the pacing felt slow with this one but I still enjoyed the whole story. I find myself struggling with an explanation about this whole book because there are so many different pieces that Arden ties together and I applaud her for the way it all comes together in the end. If you are looking for something a little different you might check this one out. I also just realized that this is a series so I will be keeping an eye out for book two in this series as I’m interested to see where Arden takes these characters next.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.