The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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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. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

Yesterday morning I set my alarm clock to 7 o’clock so I could finish this wonderful, heartbreaking story about old spirits, a beguiling winter demon and a courageous girl whose eccentricity put fear into the hearts of her fellow villagers. This book is a true jem of fantasy literature and I am already counting down days till the paperback release of the second part in the series. It is filled with magic and love and interesting characters and the language is rich and inventive.

What I love most about this book is the portrayal of family relations and the love that binds siblings together no matter what. Alyosha was probably my favourite character besides Vasya because he stood by her side despite what others said about her. He didn’t let society shape his opinion, instead he had a mind of his own and I loved him for that.

Vasya was such a great main character, unique and resilient and brave despite her fears. The winter demon was the most enigmatic character in the book which I did expect because he is after all the lord of the winter. The scenes in the last third of the book were so wonderful and filled with little hints, I couldn’t help but guess what would happen in the next two books.

Although I like romance in a fantasy novel, I actually didn’t miss it here. I mean, there were some hints of a romance woven in there but it was far from your typical YA love story. I wouldn’t even call it a love story, perhaps just a glimpse into what could (will?) happen. The mixture of old spirits and Christianity was tackled spectacularly and I thought the fear of the unknown was so realistically portrayed, I completely understood why people used to burn witches or so called wise women at stakes.

The characters were layered and not one of them was purely good or bad. Konstantin’s struggles pained me but he got on my nerves because of his fierce piousness and Anna Ivanovna seemed just crazy to me. The overall plot, the battle between good(ish) and bad was very original in its form and I honestly didn’t know what would happen next. I was glad to see the author wasn’t afraid to kill off some of the characters, even the ones I liked.

The story started a bit slow but man it picked up the pace. The last third of the book was so intense, I got freaked out at some parts and was even scared to go to bed, it was that scary. I think the story hinted at a lot of things, but the hints were so well crafted, it’s difficult to say what to expect next. I just know I’ll pre-order the second book and read it as soon as it arrives in the mail.

I urge fans of fantasy and YA literature to pick up this book and read it in one sitting. It’s insanely good and unlike anything I’ve read. It instanly became one of my favourite reads of the year and it’s barely April.

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Author: murmuringletters

A bookish girl in love with stories in all shapes and sizes. Fan of Harry Potter, fantasy literature and Scotland. Collector of tea cups and bookmarks, history enthusiast, believer in fairyland.

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