The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
This is one of those books that reminds me why I love reading -- it got all under my skin and hooked its nails into my emotions and I loved every second of it. Before I was even half way through I knew it had earned a spot on my favourites shelf.Summary: 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.
Basically...I adored it.
The world was a mix of old Russia and intricate folklore woven together beautifully and the writing was lovely. And the characters... I loved them, especially Vasya -- she was an excellent character, I loved that she was complex and strong but her strength was in her compassion and fearlessness and the lengths she'd go to to protect the people she cares about rather than physical strength. And I loved the way the relationships developed and that family was such a big role in the story.
I loved all of it pretty much. The only thing I didn't love was that there was spousal rape and assault mentioned kind of casually in the story and not really acknowledged as wrong...which is fitting with the time period and it isn't written graphically, but I thought I'd mention that here in case that was a deal breaker for someone or something that would bother them if they weren't expecting it.
I don't have much else to say about the book really...I just really, really loved it and it left me pining for the sequels. I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.