The Bear and the Nightingale / Katherine Arden

It’s been sometime since I’ve wet my YA / fantasy whistle. This used to be the only genre I consumed and for whatever reason, I took a break. I’m not really sure why. Over this summer I was shopping with the fam, where I found myself in a bookstore…because you know… who needs clothes when you can have books?

One thing I love about my favorite indie bookstore is that it constantly displays employee picks, and the Bear and the Nightingale was propped up in this section. I can’t remember the employee’s name, but I want to give them a big hug and thank them.

This book has so much of what I love about this genre. It is the first in a three part series, it has elements of folklore, a fairy tale influence, a nice touch of magic, TALKING TREES, conversations with animals and a touch of historical fiction set in 14th century Russian wilderness!!!!!

Synopsis: The quickest, spoiler free summary is Katherine Arden wrote this as a historical fantasy which is the first novel in the Winternight trilogy. The Bear and the Nightingale chronicles tale of a young girl, Vasya, who is able to communicate with mythological creatures of tales she was told as a child.

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Arden has this way with words that creates this otherworldly ambiance. Her words paint this beautiful picture of the Russian wilderness so strongly that if I would have picked this book up in the summer I wouldn’t have been able to finish it. The wintry, magical forest can only be enjoyed while sitting by the fireplace with a cozy blanket.

I can’t stop gushing over the female protagonist Vasya Petrovna. This woman is far from your classic damsel in distress. She isn’t exactly known for her looks, frequently referred to as the little frog girl, and is strong, smart and takes no shit. While romance isn’t a part of this first book, I do sense a bit of a love affair brewing for book two with a mysterious ice… guy… frost demon. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.

This book has so many things that I love – it is feminist AF, the setting is this beautiful magical forest, it involves battles and themes of growing into ones strength.

” I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.”

Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – I can’t give this book 5 stars because at times I did find the pacing to be slow. It’s a slow burn with a bit of a rushed ending. The final events should have been more powerful but instead were a bit lacking. BUT – I am just hoping it was a precursor to so much more in the next two novels, which I will be reading. 4 stars from me – I recommend you journey to the wilderness and meet Vasya for yourself!