The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


***I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review***


SYNOPSIS: Vasya’s mother died giving birth to her and hoped that Vasya would have magic just as powerful as her grandmother. Vasya can see the spirits that care for her village and live in the forest surrounding her home, but the spirits grow weak when her stepmother and the village’s new priest turn the village away from their old ways and toward the fear of God. Vasya keeps faith with the spirits, but as darker forces grow more powerful is one girl’s belief enough to save her people?


This book has everything that a fairy tale should and yet all the typical fairy tale hallmarks are twisted in a different way. There’s an “evil” stepmother, but is she really evil or just scared of what she can’t understand? There’s a “wild” girl, but is she really wild or just living an existence that we don’t understand? I also love that Vasya is never described as being a beauty, but it is her personality and her carriage that make her beautiful to many. The prose was beautiful and had that cadence that fairy tales have. I don’t really know how to describe it but if you read fairy tales or even Russian novels (at least for me) there’s just a particular phrasing and pace that a fall into which I like that Arden was able to replicate. I loved Vasya’s relationships with all her siblings, but I wish they got explored just a little more. When Olya and Sasha go away, I wanted more about them, but I understand that this is Vasya’s story and her siblings aren’t as important as they seemed in the beginning (especially Sasha). I also like that Vasya’s father kept her at somewhat of a distance because she was her mother’s last child and while she didn’t look like her mother, looking at her reminded him of her so there was some tension there. The mythical creatures in this book were fun for me as well because I don’t really know a lot about Russian folklore so all the creatures were new to me! This book is a classic fairy tale that is also distinctly Russian in both the setting and the telling. I liked that Arden didn’t go with the Russian tradition of everyone having three different names that everyone calls the other characters because that gets so confusing and instead kept it to one nickname, one full name, and one pet name that is universally used by all the characters. I also liked that the fairy tale doesn’t end the way you expect it to and that it doesn’t have the perfect “happily ever after” ending. There’s some vagueness to the way Vasya’s story ends where you can decide for yourself what happens to her next. Overall I really enjoyed this book and while it was a little slow in the beginning, after the set up it really picked up and had me turning the pages in anticipation for what would happen next!

Thanks Random House for allowing me to read this book! Get your copy here.

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