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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine…

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Winternight (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,9241595,565 (4.08)191
"A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern'sThe Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice. 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 marriage or confinement in a convent. As danger circles nearer, 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. Advance praise for The Bear and the Nightingale "An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale. A Russian setting adds unfamiliar spice to the story of a young woman who does not rebel against the limits of her role in her culture so much as transcend them. The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic."--Robin Hobb, bestselling author of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy "A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up."--Naomi Novik, bestselling author of Uprooted"-- "In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay"--… (more)
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» See also 191 mentions

English (162)  Dutch (1)  All languages (163)
Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
This is the first book of the series, I really like the backdrop and main characters. Very interesting story line. ( )
  Baochuan | Oct 29, 2019 |
It took me a little bit to really get into The Bear and the Nightingale, but then I was completely hooked! There's a lot of information at the beginning of the book, which I realize was important for the story as a whole, but it made the first few chapters feel really long. I almost stopped reading it a few times, but I was in love with the mythology and the magic. Despite the dangers it held, there was something enchanting about all of the snow and ice.

There's a large focus on religion, but it wasn't overwhelming. I think the author did a wonderful job balancing people's beliefs with their mythology. The people in this book have lived their entire lives believing in domovoi and banniks, and a single crazed priest manages to challenge everything they've ever known. Arden addresses how fear can make people behave rashly, act in ways you wouldn't expect, and twist the beliefs they've held their entire lives. Fear is a powerful motivator, and it can have very dangerous consequences.

Vasilisa's stepmother was a character I loved to hate. She was cruel to Vasya throughout the book, and punished her physically and psychologically. It was hard to listen to, and I can't image what it must have been like for Vasya to experience. She was alone in a lot of ways, even though she was surrounded by people. I wish her father and brothers had taken her side instead of letting Anna (the stepmother) essentially have free reign. The woman was certifiably insane, and refused to see her gifts as anything but a curse. She saw demons where Vasilisa saw friends and acquaintances. It was all about perspective.

Even though they were silent too often, I enjoyed the family dynamics and thought the siblings had really great relationships. They all loved Vasya, even if they didn't always understand her. Her father wanted the best for her, even if he went about certain things the wrong way. Most of his problems stemmed from Anna and her stupid face. Gah! It's been ages since I've hated a character so much.

The Bear and the Nightingale is like a train gaining momentum. Once the story is at full speed, the only thing you can do is hang on and see where it takes you. Every small detail is connected in some way, and I really enjoyed seeing how all of the pieces fit together. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series, though I probably won't listen to the audio again. Her accent and pronunciations were amazing, but all of the characters sounded very similar.

Originally posted at Do You Dog-ear? on December 15, 2018. ( )
  doyoudogear | Oct 11, 2019 |
“That evening, the old lady sat in the best place for talking: in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven.”

In the street of the small village I grew up in, there lived (and lives to this day even though she is very, very old now!) a lady of sheer infinite kindness. During the 1980’ties she still used an old oven that burned wood in her wonderfully old-fashioned kitchen. I spent many days there doing my homework for school, warming up on a wooden bench next to said oven or just hanging around listening to her stories.

Thus, when I read the introductory quote, I felt immediately reminded of those days during my childhood and I was hoping for being taken back into those simple times.

Unfortunately, this was not really to be: Many of the slavic “demons” or rather familiar spirits appearing in this book were part of her stories as well so I did feel a slight connection. Nostalgia isn’t enough, though, and this turned out to be a very, very slow read. I almost lost patience with it and might have put it aside for good because too much irked me about this book even though the story is promising:

Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the youngest daughter of Pyotr, the local squire, and Marina, his wife, who dies giving birth to Vasya. Marina’s mother had special talents and Marina just knows that Vasya will inherit those.

In fact, Vasya is a wild child, a tomboy, very down to earth and connected to nature. Above almost everything else she values (her) freedom. Due to all this, she can actually see the familiar spirits she knows so well from the old stories told by her nurse, Dunya. She lives in harmony with them, feeds them and even talks to them and learns from them.

Doom is heralded by harsh winters, though, and the arrival of a new Christian priest who tries to “save” all those “heathens” from their worship of the old gods:

“He spoke of things they did not know, of devils and torments and temptation.”

And this is where things start to go severely wrong in the book: We’re exposed to tons of religious crap. Neither the villagers nor Vasya need saving in the first place – they used to live in peace and harmony with each other and nature and only the arrival of the zealous priest makes things go deeply awry.

Religion, and especially Christianity, pretty much poisons the local society depicted here and, true to life, is basically as much a cancer as it is in our society today.

Vasya is the only ray of light in this because she is a free spirit herself:

“I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”

It takes way too much of the book to get to this point where Vasya finally declares her independence. Of the titular “bear” we first get to hear after almost half the book! The nightingale comes even later...

Until then we have to deal with religious nuts expressing all the things that are “sinful” and even the well-meaning people like Vasya’s father are contemplating how to “save” her:

“Marina, thought Pyotr. You left me this mad girl, and I love her well. She is braver and wilder than any of my sons. But what good is that in a woman? I swore I’d keep her safe, but how can I save her from herself?”

I wanted to grab Pyotr at that point and club some sense into his thick head! No matter the gender, leave people be the way they want to be and if that includes going wild, so be it.

Only when the book is almost over do we get some true development and, thus, a glimpse at how good this book could have been had it gotten to the point a bit quicker:

“Morozko spared Vasya a quick, burning glance, and she felt an answering fire rising in her: power and freedom together.”

At the end, we get to really feel that fire, the raw (narrative) power that could have made a brilliant book! Alas, it’s still too little and too late to raise this book above the three stars I can justify to award it.

And, yet, I might actually read the second book of the trilogy to see if it’s more of the long-winded same or if Arden actually succeeds in allowing Vasya and Morozko to roam freely and wildly as they should.

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1 vote philantrop | Sep 9, 2019 |
I slogged through this heavy and involved Russian folk tale and liked the gist of it. However, too many hard to pronounce names and characters to keep straight. It was all over the place. ( )
  lhaines56 | Aug 11, 2019 |
I really liked the main character Vasilisa, but the story fell just a little short for me. But it interested me enough that I’ll read book two! ( )
  BookLove80 | Jul 31, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arden, Katherineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
AitchCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bachman, Barbara M.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boesewinkel, IngeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carpentier, MargeauxCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gati, KathleenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunt, RobertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Random House AudiobooksPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, David G.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Original title
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Original publication date
Important places
Important events
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By the shore of the sea stands a green oak tree;
Upon the tree is a golden chain:
And day and night a learned cat
Walks around and around on the chain;
When he goes to the right he sings a song,
When he goes to the left he tells a tale.
-A.S. Pushkin
To my mother
with love
First words
It was late winter in northern Rus', the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Canonical DDC/MDS

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Book description
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay-- Provided by publisher.
Haiku summary
Don't get lost in the
woods: they're cold and all sorts of
foul creatures hunt there.

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