Story ★★★★★ Writing ★★★★★ Cover ★★★★ Mystery ★★★★ PROS: Captivating Well written Beautiful characters Vivid imagery and descriptions CONS: occasional over-use of adjectives
Well hello there! This year I am on a mission to read more and consequentially, review more books. I am always happy to receive a free advanced reader copy to review.
What drew me to Katherine Arden’s debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale was the reference to Russian Tales, which animated my childhood. I was excited to see how she would use them to tell a new tale. And I am so happy I got to read this book, which plunged me right as I had hoped, into my childhood and the magic world of Ded-Moroz (the Slavic equivalent of Santa Claus, call him Father Winter), Baba-Yaga (a witch who looks like a grandma), Russalka (a mermaid with magic powers) and so on. Words cannot describe how much pleasure I had reading this “new tale”.
The Bear and the Nightingale, a classic fairytale told in a new light, tells the story of Vasilisa (Vasya) Petrovna, youngest daughter of the grand lord of Lesnyaya Zemlia, Pyotr Vladimirovich, who is also brother-in-law to the grand Prince of Moscow, and of her family. Pyotr Vladimirovich was happily married with four children, Kolya, Olya, Sasha and Lyoshka when his wife Marina died in childbirth, bringing to this world his last born – Vasya. Vasya, her mother told Pyotr, would be like her mother was – gifted with the magical blood of her bloodline. As she dies, she begs her husband to take great care of her daughter. Vasya grows curious of mind and of a wandering nature. She strives to be like her brothers, especially Sasha whom is her favorite; she takes upon herself to dress like a boy, and go onto exploring the surrounding forest. She also befriends the house spirits the villagers all leave ritual offerings for, but which only she is able to see. Seven years after Marina’s death, Pyotr decides to take a second wife. He goes to Moscow, to introduce his sons, Kolya and Sasha to their uncle and Prince of Moscow. The Prince himself has a daughter, Anna Dmitrievna, who is said to be crazy, as she sees demons everywhere. To kill two birds with one stone, and ensure his son’s successful succession to the throne, the Prince of Moscow strikes a deal with Pyotr: he will take his daughter as his second wife, and in return, Pyotr’s daughter Olya will get to wed a Prince herself. Sasha decides to join a monastery and serve God, meanwhile Kolya insults a man who turns out to be Morozko, the winter-king. Again, Pyotr finds himself striking a deal in Moscow: he promises to give a gift Morozco has intended for his youngest daughter, Vasya in return for the life of Kolya. As Pyotr returns to Lesnyaya Zemlya, he brings back with him a wind of change. A reluctant bride who will prohibit the villagers to continue to give offerings to the household spirits, through the influence of a new priest, Konstantin Nikonovich. With his arrival, and the promotion of Christianity, horrible things will start to happens, of which only Vasya will have the power to stop.
The book is packed with action, and with sub-story lines which indicate Katherine Arden’s plans for a sequel. Written in a lyrical format, The Bear and the Nightingale is evocative, vivid and rich in beautiful descriptions and imagery. It is a page-turner, with beautifully written scenes waiting at each corner. The introduction of so many characters never feels confusing or overwhelming; instead, each character builds the story and invites us to follow them in their journeys. Besides offering us a new re-tale of classic Russian fairy tales, Katherine Arden also takes inspiration in the transitional period of Medieval Rus’. She explores the slowly rising influence of Christianity on pagan societies, and its clash with the old Rus’ – worshipers of old gods and the traditions that embrace it. Throughout the novel we thus note the clash between old traditions and new ones, acts of bravery and fear, and of course good and evil. Overall, it is a tale beautifully told, and I cannot wait to read the sequel of The Bear and the Nightingale.
Thank you to NetGalley, and Random House Publishing Group – Ballatine and Del Rey for an ARC of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden,