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The Bear and the Nightingale

posted by: March 27, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Bear and the NightingaleKatherine Arden’s enchanting debut novel buries readers in the freezing winter of medieval Russia, a place still steeped in myth and fairy tale. The Bear and the Nightingale is an atmospheric debut that brings to life 14th century Russian history, makes it relatable to readers and fills it with magic.

 

Vasya grows up in the northern wilderness, the daughter of the wealthy lord of a remote village. The family’s wealth doesn’t spare Vasya’s mother, who dies giving birth to her, or the children from spending long winter evenings huddled together around the giant kitchen stove as their nurse spins folktales about demons and sprites.

 

Their kind but distracted father lets the children, especially Vasya, grow untamed. She may be a little unusual, but she is also brave, intelligent and kind. She tells no one, not even her brother, that she actually sees and speaks with the sprites in the house and the horses in the stable.

 

When her wild behavior starts to scare off potential suitors, her father is finally convinced he needs to remarry in an effort to tame his youngest daughter.

 

His new wife, a deeply devout woman, forbids the villagers from honoring the old traditions by leaving out dishes of food for sprites in the house or barns. Vasya realizes it isn’t because her stepmother doesn’t believe they exist, but because she sees them too that she is determined to rid the village of these old customs. However, by starving the spirits that have kept them safe and prosperous for years, the village allows an ancient evil to creep back into their midst.

 

Because she can see what is happening, it's up to Vasya to save herself, her family and her village from demons straight from her nurse's stories.

 

The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for a cold winter night. The compelling plot and lyrical writing will hold readers under its spell, unable to put down the book or go to bed at a decent hour. Vasya is an unforgettable heroine who Arden has crafted so carefully, she seems like a real person. While readers are supplied with proper villains, their evil is complex and nuanced.

 

Readers who enjoy books by Neil Gaiman or Naomi Novik’s Uprooted will enjoy this title.


 
 

Revised: March 27, 2017