Saturday, December 14, 2019

Audiobook Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey

Pages: 323
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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 is a book I've been wary of starting for years. I was intrigued by the summary and the fandom but everyone has told me that it's slow and I probably wouldn't like it. The mood struck recently and I decided to go for it, even knowing it would probably take some time to get through. I'm so glad I stuck with it!

Vasilisa lives with her father and siblings in the Russian wilderness. The story begins when she is born and follows her throughout her life. Vasya can see the spirits no one else can - the people say she is a witch. I loved Vasya! I loved how strong and sure of herself she was from a very young age. Although her world is full of misogyny and people set on marrying her off, Vasya never accepts "a woman's lot in life" and forges her own path.

This story is steeped in Russian folklore. Admittedly, I am not well versed on Russian tales, but even I picked up on a few references from other fairy tales. Although this book is indeed slow, I loved all of the mythology throughout. The household spirits and forest spirits were all so interesting and their individual personalities were so much fun to read. The world, while small, is wonderfully built and made me feel like I was there with the family in the harsh Russian winter.

Vasya's life is fascinating, but this 323 page book did take me a couple weeks to get through. I switched from a hardcover to the audiobook once I realized it might take forever. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the story because I definitely did! It wasn't even a particularly heavy book. It was just long and meandering and at times a bit boring.

I am excited to see what happens in book two of this series! I've heard that it's much faster paced and that there may even be a hint of romance. It was certainly set up, so I'm eager to find out. If you're a lover of intricate fairy tales and folklore, this is a book you definitely do not want to miss.