Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Bear and the Nightingale #1)

by Katherine Arden.

Vasilisa, the youngest of 5 siblings, grows up in the Russian hinterlands with a special connection to the wild. She loves her nurse’s stories of the different spirits of house and forest, but most of all she loves tales of Morozko, the fearful king of winter. When her father remarries to a devout citywoman, who comes with a new priest, it triggers a change in Vasilisa’s comfortable existence. And, as she soon comes to realize, a change in the natural balance. As the new priest’s influence grows, the local spirits and land weaken. As scary as tales of Morozko are, they are nothing compared to the thing he guards against. Threatened with marriage or a convent by her stepmother, Vasilisa must find a way to keep her land and people safe before time runs out.

One of my favorite books growing up was this book of Russian fairytales. In many ways, The Bear and the Nightingale was like revisiting my childhood. Except the fairytale grew up with me and got equivalently darker as a result. I’m not mad about it. This was an engrossing, atmospheric read. From the domestic spirits to the encroachment of Christianity to the mythos surrounding Morozko, this fictional slice of old Russia felt rich and authentic. It is not a Disney-fied fairytale. There is blood and death and violence, and a monster or five. It does nicely capture that feeling familiar from folk tales, where reality slips sideways just a bit and suddenly things like magic just are.

Vasilisa as the main character is both traditional and not. Traditional because that’s a recurring name/character from Russian folklore, but not because generally it’s Vasilisa the Beautiful where she is a fair maiden. This story’s Vasilisa is not ugly, but not beautiful either. Rather, she is smart, and brave, and compelling. I like this modern twist on a heroine. The supporting characters were mostly well-done and sympathetic- even the traditionally vile stepmother. The author did well to add nuance to the normal archetypes.

I would’ve liked a little more backstory on Vasilisa’s mother and the magic of her line (where it came from, what exactly that meant). And some parts of the story moved a little slowly for me. But overall, I still really enjoyed this book.

If you like new twists on old stories, or have a penchant for Russian folklore, give this a try.

I give it 4/5 stars.

I received a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buy From Amazon

The Bear and the Nightingale

Continue Reading

Book Review: The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen (Ravenspire #1) by C.J. Redwine. Princess Lorelai has a great life- a loving family, a kingdom that dotes on her, budding magical power. Until her mother dies, and her father remarries. Her new stepmother seems charming at first, but is soon revealed to be an evil witch. In the disaster that claims her father’s life, Lorelai escapes with her brother and a trusted guard. She spends the next decade planning and building her strength (both physically and magically) in order to finally face the evil queen. When the king from a neighboring land (who also happens to […]

Continue Reading

Book Review: Stray

Stray (Four Sisters #1) by Elissa Sussman. Princess Aislynn wants nothing more than to follow the Path she was born to: complete her schooling, attend her Introduction Ball, dance with the suitors her advisor and parents have chosen for her, get married, have children, etc. At least that’s what she tells herself. But the magic inside her- born, all girls are told, from wicked and selfish desires- refuses to be silenced or controlled. When disaster strikes at her Introduction Ball, Aislynn finds herself on a Path she could never have imagined. Determined to make the best of this new life, […]

Continue Reading

Book Review: Thorn

Thorn by Intisar Khanani. Princess Alyrra does not have a charmed life. Abused by her family and ignored by the court, her only solace is in her friendships with the servants, and the mysterious Wind that talks to her. When her mother announces she’s to be married off to a neighboring prince, she’s filled with dread. Everything familiar will be gone, she doesn’t know the language of her new country and for all she knows the prince will be just as cruel as her family. When a spell is cast on her during the journey that steals her identity, she […]

Continue Reading

What I Wore: Modern Fairytale

A few weeks ago, Vanessa contacted me about doing a themed outfit post. Specifically, the theme was to be ‘My Favorite Fairy Tale.’ I thought this was a fun idea (and good timing since I’m planning on reading Grimms’ Fairy Tales this month), so I signed up. It was a no brainer to me which fairytale I was going to pick. Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite. It’s not true love until he gives you a library, ladies! 😉 But seriously, I’ve always loved the story. Having a leading lady who is smart and loves books was […]

Continue Reading