Book Review | The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I received an eARC of The Bear and the Nightingale from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensating for this review. The publisher contacted me via netgalley since they saw that I had enjoyed and reviewed Uprooted by Naomi Novak.

The Bear and the Nightingale is the perfect wintry tale to read over winter. It’s filled with such magic that is unique to the storyline. It’s a fantasy retelling of Russian folklore, which I’m not familiar with, but was still able to get into the further in I read. It only took me a few chapters before I was hooked.

Vasya, the main character, is such a strong and uniquely original heroine. She’s not attractive, nor is she the strongest. She’s so well flawed, yet she still overcomes and triumphs against the odds. Though, the sacrifice at the end is a complete plot twist and heart-wrenching. Vasya only manages to survive her fight with the Bear from this sacrifice that just comes out of nowhere. Yet it’s not at all unrealistic. It’s concluded on such a note that left me satisfied as a stand-alone fantasy.

I didn’t know much going into this novel and I think that was the best way to approach it. It made the reading experience that much more worthwhile.

I highly recommend this novel for anyone who loves fantasy retellings or the Brothers’ Grimm stories. Also, if you liked Uprooted, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll enjoy The Bear and the Nightingale. I’ll copy and paste the synopsis and a couple quotes:

“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.”

“Will you bear me to the ends of the earth, if the road will take us so far?

Anywhere, Vasya. The world is wide, and the road will take us anywhere.”

“Life must pay for life …

bring me one and I’ll bring you yours.”