Review - The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden @arden_katherine @DelReyBooks

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Del Ray
Publication Date:January 10, 2017
Date Read: January 13, 2017
Source: NetGalley

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.

My Review

I enjoyed this fairy tale of a story.  I did have a difficult time really getting into the story and I am not entirely sure why.  Once I became hooked on the story, I couldn't find out what would happen next fast enough.  It was at times a slow moving story even though things always seemed to be happening.  The descriptions in the story were incredibly vivid.  This was the kind of story that will stay with me for some time.

I have seen some descriptions of this story that indicate that this is a re-telling of an old story.  I am honestly not well versed in Russian folklore so this story is completely new to me but the underlying fairy tale feel was present throughout the novel.   This was a story filled with magic, bravery, and things unexpected.  I didn't even have a guess regarding what would eventually happen in this story and it was exciting to watch things unfold.

The story focuses on Vasilisa, or Vasya.  Vasya's mother died shortly after her birth so she spends the early years of her life being raised by her father and her nurse along with her sister and three brothers.   Vasya is a bit of a wild child spending most of her time in the woods and speaking with the local spirits.  Eventually, her father does decide to marry again and comes back from Moscow with a new wife.  Vasya's new step-mother is also able to see the local spirits but instead of embracing this skill she fears it and wants the spirits to leave.

I liked Vasya a lot.  She was brave throughout the story even when it caused things to be difficult in her life.  She always seemed to think about the welfare of others.  She trys to honor her families wishes even when she knows that it will cause her tolose the ability to do the things that bring her joy.  I really enjoyed all of the characters in this story.  Vasya's father tried hard to make the best decisions for her and he did care deeply for her.  Her brothers were all very different but they all cared for and supported Vasya in their own way.  Her step-mother and the priest were not nearly as likeable but they did add a new element to the story.

I would recommend this book to others.  It is such a captivating story told in a wonderful manner.  The story is highly imaginative and filled with details that bring it to life.  I believe that this is the first book of a planned trilogy and I can't wait to read more of this incredible tale.

I received an advance reader edition of this book from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Del Ray via NetGalley.

About the Author

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Author Links: Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter


  1. It gives off the impression that it's highly MG? I don't know about this one. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though!

  2. I’m glad you liked this one. I’m usually not a fan of retellings, but this book is on my TBR list because I’ve heard great things about the writing. Nice review!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. Such a beautiful book. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Definitely sounds like one I'd do better with on audio.

  4. That cover gets me every time. So pretty! Glad the story inside was just as good. Great review!

  5. It seems like this is a really deep story which works on the readers emotions and takes it slow and steady time in building it up to what it is. It's unfortunate that it takes a while to get into though!

  6. I've been wondering about this book as I have heard mixed reviews, which might be explained by the slow start. Might try it out on audio! :)

    1. I would be curious to hear how you like the audio. I am always looking for good audio re-reads!


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