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The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Our Score:★★★★✩✩✩✩✩✩

GENRE: Fantasy, Historical, Cultural Fiction

Selected by Pamela -December 2017


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 honour 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 honouring 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.

(Synopsis taken from Goodreads)


REVIEW: (Contains spoilers)

Gemma's Thoughts:

On reflection: this book was a fairy tale; it had the beauty of the setting (small village surrounded by the deep,dark woods), lots of magical elements including the characters, villain, hero, innocence and to top it off a pretty front cover. Therefore, with all these elements I should have loved this novel. Unfortunately, I didn't. Maybe it was a mixture of the historical and cultural fiction mixed with fantasy that was just too much for me. I was more than half way through when it was brought to my attention there was a glossary at back, after finding this it made the reading easier to comprehend and flow a bit more. Perhaps I didn't give this book a fair go during the busy December period and need to go back and re-read it. I think I would be interested to read the next book in the sequel as on face value I should enjoy these novels.

Pamela's Thoughts:

I was grateful to discover the glossary at the back of the book being able to look up the Russian characters and words more easily along with reading the notes by the author at the conclusion of the story - it helped to put folklore and Russian history into perspective a bit more.

I liked the characters of Vasya and her brother Aloshskya and their relationship - though it did surprise them that she always seemed to be a child/young adult, never appearing to get any older! Whilst I enjoyed the magical world of fairy tales with a sprinkling of historical fiction,especially given the time of year in reading this novel - I struggled at times to understand the story and the significance of some of the characters. I would not be bothered about reading the next instalment of this book series.

Emma's Thoughts:

It was an alright book, albeit with words I couldn't really read or pronounce! I ended up replacing the names of a few characters in my head; Peter instead of Pyotr , Vas instead of Vasya and don't get me started on rusalka, dvorovoi, domoviye or Morozko! But I did learn a few things having googled the Russian 'oven' they all slept on - ahhh - thanks Google! I was thinking an aga would be a bit of a squeeze. The first chapter was a little weird and didn't really grab me but on I read. The book is basically about Russian fairy tales or folk stories(?) that (in this book) were actually true. As my BookCosy sisters above say, do yourself a favour and read the Glossary on page 413 first - why on earth wasn't this at the beginning! Once I 'roughly' understood who everyone was, I quite liked it and was glad how it ended with Vas. Change the names a little and this could be a Harry Porter style movie hit!



Emma: 5

Gemma: 3

Nic: 8

Pamela: 4

Sandra: 3


Average 4

Let us know what you thought about this book. We would love to read your reviews and hear what you would score it.

If you enjoyed this book why not try:

  • Girl Reading by Katie Ward

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

  • The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Happy reading!

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