Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction
Part of a series? No, this is a standalone novel.
Publish Date: January 10th, 2016
First and foremost, a big thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing for allowing me access to an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am grateful as always!
A young woman’s village is threatened by forces both real and fantastic in Arden’s debut novel. Vasalisa grew up hearing Russian fairy tales from her nurse to while away the long winters. Only she knows them for what they are, though. She, like her grandmother, can see the spirits of the household and surrounding areas that help them. When a new priest comes to town, he scares the villagers into giving up the old ways- the spirits are no longer getting the little offerings that sustained them. Some are weakening, some are angry, and they aren’t the worst that’s out there. There’s something stronger, older, out in the woods.
Vasalisa and her village become pawns in an old battle. She must take up against a demon to protect what she loves, even if they will not love her back. Called a witch and worse, Vasalisa must jump into a fairytale-like scenario to protect her family that can’t understand her, and the village that won’t accept her. When all is settled, though, will she finally find her place in the world?
I loved this book! The premise was interesting enough for me to become enthralled with the idea before page one. The execution was fantastic. This cold, magical world came into sharp focus through Arden’s fantastical prose. Love them or hate them (and there were some I truly hated) the characters were well developed and intriguing. Vasalisa, the wild girl that worried her family, sparked from the page with her warmth and generosity of spirit, her bravery, and her foolhardiness. I loved her as the heroine of the piece. I especially loved the semi-opened ending (no spoilers!), even though that usually drives me nuts.
I have to admit, I did not like the priest. His character was lacking, and he was a very hard sell for me. I wanted to feel bad for him through the book, or to see redeeming qualities in him, but I couldn’t. He was a weak, often cruel, man that used scare tactics to control a village. Even more than the “real” villain of this piece, I could not like him, or the way they wrapped up his part in the book. That said, this is still a definite five star book with an extra star for creativity.
As far as the adult content goes, there’s some violence. It is, at most, a two. I would have absolutely no issue giving this book to a young teen.
The book comes out 1-10-2017, I for one am preordering my copy! Seriously, my only upset is that this is not out in time for me to buy it for my niece as a Christmas present!
Link to book: