Title: The Bear and The Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Random House Publishing – Ballantine
Date of publication: January 10th 2017
Number of pages: 336
POV: 3rd person
Where you can find this book: Amazon
A young woman’s family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.
I am going to start this review off with a complaint. I dislike, actually dislike greatly, when a book’s blurb doesn’t match up with what the book is actually about. With this blurb, it does get it right at the end of the synopsis. It’s the beginning that is screwed up. See, Pytor wasn’t a new father when the stranger gives him the necklace for Vasya. Vasya was either 6 or 7 at that point and Pytor didn’t hold onto the necklace. The woman who raised Vasya after her mother died, Dunya, held onto the necklace. And she did know its reason. She was visited by the strange man in a dream and in that dream, she was warned to keep the necklace safe and to give it to Vasya when she was grown. I will be letting the publisher’s know when I go to submit the review.
Anyways, let’s get to the review…lol
The book starts off on a late winter night in northern Rus’ (Russia) in Pytor Vladimirovich’s house. Dunya and the children (Kolya, Sascha, Olya and Akyosha) were gathered around the oven and Dunya was about to tell the children a folktale about the frost-demon, the winter-king Karachun when their mother, Marina, came in from outside and joined in listening to the tale. Pytor was outside, assisting an ewe give birth to a lamb. When he finally came in, Marina told him her news. She was expecting another child and this child was to be like her mother….who was known as a witch-woman and had mysterious powers. She could tame animals, dream the future and summon rain. Pytor was understandably a little worried about the news. Marina wasn’t a young woman and he was afraid that she wouldn’t be strong enough for the birth.
He was right. Marina died shortly after giving birth to Vasilisa (Vasya) and what she predicted came true. Vasya was a headstrong, willful and almost feral. She wasn’t an attractive girl. Her eyes and mouth were too big, skinny with long fingers and huge feet. Her eyes were amazing
But the child’s eyes were the color of the forest during a summer thunderstorm, and her wide mouth was sweet
So a promise of future beauty.
It was when she was this age that she got lost in the forest outside her house and came upon an old man sleeping in the roots of a tree. Thinking, as any 6-year-old would, that she could wake him up and he would know the way to her father’s house, she shook him. Only to find out that he is a hideously disfigured man. One eye was missing, with the socket sewn shut and with hideous scars on that side of her face. Still, she invites him back to her house….if he can take her home. Then a truly supernatural thing happens, as she goes to take this stranger’s hand, a man on a white horse comes thundering to where they were, makes the old man go back to sleep and frightens Vasya…who ends up being found by Sascha, her beloved older brother.
It was after that escapade that Pytor decides to head to Moscow and get a wife for himself. He takes Sasha and Kolya with him. It was while he was there that he meets a mysterious stranger who gives him a beautiful jewel and tells him to hold on to it until Vasya gets older. If he doesn’t, this mysterious man will come after and kill Kolya.
Pytor does find a wife while in Moscow. His late wife’s half brother’s daughter…..who sees demons and is classified as mad by her father, stepmother and servants. Anna is her name and she quickly becomes my least favorite person in the book. After discovering that Vasya can talk to the household spirits (the domovois’ that took care of the hearth and helped with household chores, the vazila who helped with the stables and taking care of the horses) and with non household spirits, such as a rusalka (similar to a water nymph but with a taste for human blood), Anna would beat her to get her repent. Not that it did any good. Vasya only became more feral, more headstrong.
When Vasya turns fourteen, a new priest is sent to her village since the old one has died. Anna begs the Metropolitan to send a new one and they did. A young priest named Konstantin Nikonovich who is considered somewhat of an upstart and is sent there to straighten him out. Anna is thrilled because he is driving out the demons (aka the household spirits) that she seems. Vasya, not so much, and she resorts to leaving offerings for them where her stepmother can’t see them or in rooms where she doesn’t go.
It is also during that time that the mysterious man makes an appearance in Dunya’s dream and he demands that she give Vasya the necklace. Dunya makes a bargain with him to wait another year to give it to her. In that year, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.
If you want to find out what happened in that year and the spectacular ending, read the book!!
I loved Vasya. She was a spunky girl who called it like it was and wasn’t afraid to stand up to anyone or anything. I did think, at one point, that her spunkiness was going to get her killed but it didn’t.
The end of the book is definitely a must read. It was fantastic and definitely a battle between good and evil. The very end of the book , though, is what got me and it made me smile.
How many stars will I give The Bear and the Nightingale: 5
Why: This is the first book that I have read that incorporates Russian fairy tales/folklore in a very realistic way. I don’t know a lot about Russian mythology and loved that the author included a glossary at the end of the book (even though I did use my in Kindle dictionary/translator)
Will I reread: Yes
Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes
Age range: Teen
Why: Sex (but not in detail, just mentioned in passing) and violence.
**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**