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The Winternight Trilogy #1

The Bear and the Nightingale

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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.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical debut novel from a gifted and gorgeous voice. It spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent.

319 pages, Hardcover

First published January 10, 2017

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About the author

Katherine Arden

15 books13.8k followers
A note to everyone who trips and falls upon my Goodreads page. First, welcome. Let us read and discuss all the books together. I review books I've read, everything gets five stars, if I didn't like it I don't put it up.

Second, Goodreads is wondrous, but contacting me through my Goodreads DMs is a good way to ensure a long wait for a reply. Your best bet is Twitter or Instagram (arden_katherine) on both.

Happy reading.

Born in Texas, Katherine studied French and Russian at Middlebury College. She has lived abroad in France and in Moscow, among other places. She has also lived in Hawaii, where she wrote much of The Bear and the Nightingale. She currently lives in Vermont.

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Profile Image for Melanie.
1,153 reviews97.7k followers
October 8, 2018


“Tell the story of Frost, Dunyashka. Tell us of the frost-demon, the winter-king Karachun.”

This book is magical. This book is whimsical. This book is one of the best things I’ve read in my entire life. I loved this with every bone, every red blood cell, every molecule in my body. This book was nothing short of perfection, and I’m sorry to gush, but I never expected this story to captivate me the way it did.

“In Russian, Frost was called Morozko, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachun, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in the night.”

I’m not even sure where to begin with this story, but I guess I will start by saying that this story is a love letter to stories everywhere. This book is a mash-up retelling of many Russian fairy tales, but with unique spins of them, which are woven together to tell such a beautiful tale that makes me breathless just thinking about how expertly it is crafted.

Vasilisa and her family live on the edge of the Russian wilderness. Vasilisa’s father rules these lands, and her mother died giving birth to her, knowing that she was special. Vasilisa was raised by her mother’s nursemaid, who is constantly telling her fairy tales that most Russians fear, but Vasilisa loves.

“You must remember the old stories. Make a stake of rowan-wood. Vasya, be wary. Be brave.”

Vasilisa soon realizes that she is indeed special, and that she can see creatures that most people cannot. And, again, instead of feeling fear, she feels compassion and befriends and takes care of all the different creatures that dwell on her lands.

And even though Vasilisa’s family accepts her, the rest of the community cannot see past how different she is. Vasilisa’s father tries many different things to get her to want the same things most girls in this time want (marriage, babies, performing “womanly” duties), while Vasilisa only wants to be free and see the world.

Meanwhile, there is a frost-demon that does everything to ensure him and Vasilisa’s paths cross. And Vasilisa couldn’t resist the urge to go to him even if she tried. Then a beautiful story unfolds about a girl, a nightingale, and a bear, who are destined to have a story told.

“Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing, and weep for a nightingale.”


Like I️ said, it’s now an all time favorite for me! I️ truly loved this story that much. It deserves all the praise, all the hype, and all the love.

This book had absolutely everything that I love in my fantasy:
✘ Feminist as all hell
✘ Magical forest
✘ All the morally grey characters
✘ Mythology and folklore
✘ Little fae folk saving the day
✘ Wintery setting

And when I say that this is the perfect winter read, I mean it with everything that I am. Never have I ever read a better seasonal read. Please give this a try in the upcoming months. I promise you, you won’t regret it

This book was nothing short of magical. From the lyrical prose, to the atmospheric town and forest, to the characters that constantly had me crying, to the message that girls can be anything they want to be, no matter what society tries to confine them to. This book is a tangible piece of heaven and I am so thankful that I was able to read this before the end of 2017, because it truly is a shining star in 2017 publications. I cannot wait to start my ARC of The Girl in the Tower tonight!

“I am only a story, Vasya.”

And this book is extra special to me, because this is the book that all the wonderful people at The Goodreads Power User Summit gave to me! Which makes it all the sweeter that it ended up being one of my favorite books of all time.


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Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews150k followers
February 4, 2023
A large pleasure in re-reading a favorite book is to experience that sense of almost-newness: to recognize and relive everything again exactly as it was, page by page, and yet to submit, completely and wholeheartedly, to the promise of discovery.

I read The Bear and the Nightingale for the first time in 2018. I finished the whole trilogy in 2019. It was bittersweet; for a year, I had filled my life with this world, these characters, and it was like breathing. When I said goodbye, I was not so much saying goodbye to these books as to the person I was when I read them. The person who is now two cities, three apartments, one bachelor’s degree, several heartbreaks away from me. Most days I don’t miss that person, but I missed this series, quite intensely. I longed to return to this world, to these characters, and the longing was so sharp it drew me right back to the page, as though by some invisible string.

Everything about The Bear and the Nightingale was the same, and it was different, and there was something so utterly intoxicating about that.

So vivid and fierce in my memory was Arden’s beautiful evocation of interminable winter nights and stories told by the hearth, of restless flights into the woods and an insatiable hunger for the unknown, of fire made out of fear and innocence meeting its fate, of encounters that are fraught with chance and a white mare, standing like a faint, far beacon in the darkness. The feeling, too, that I was reading a centuries-old fairytale, something timeless, beyond age. These images, which have been etched for years into the soft flesh behind my eyes, fell on my heart with a burst of recognition. Yet, when I re-read The Bear and the Nightingale, I saw more.

I saw how the book casts visceral lights upon the ways in which faith can be both a balm and a blight, how fear can rule our bodies like the hand of a hidden puppeteer, and how faith and fear, when held intertwined in our hearts, can be sharpened into weapons. I also saw what it means to be hungry down to your delicate bones without realizing it, a hunger to seek, to be seen, to surrender on your own terms. And when I turned that thought around, I realized, with a start, that in this at least, the monstrous and the downtrodden in this book were not dissimilar at all. And I understood why, at nineteen, I fell so helplessly in love with Vasya Petrovna, and so thoroughly sickened by my flashing sympathy for Konstantin Nikonovich.

With every page, the book kept blooming and blooming inside me until there was absolutely no room left for anything else. I remembered the ferocious, sacrificial love of a parent, of a sibling, and it knocked at my heart, this newly invigorated appreciation for all the invisible ribbons of familiarity and love that are woven through our lives, like a net to break our fall. At the same time, I understood that putting yourself first, after a lifetime of loving fiercely, of giving until you’re hollow, is nothing short of a courageous act of radical resistance.

“I will be free, and I will not count the cost.”


I'm always going to be struck, I think, by how much a book can yield upon revisiting it. How a story can be endless in that way, inexhaustible and beckoning. I'm glad I took the hand offered by The Bear and the Nightingale and stepped back into its world. I'm already looking forward to the next time.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
January 2, 2017
A beautiful, pastoral fairy tale set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia.

Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a tale no less compelling for its slow, gradual development. Like all the best fairy tales, the author draws on the setting - a village in the northern woods of Rus' - to create an atmosphere that promises magic and suggests many horrors.

Atmosphere is the key word here: The Bear and the Nightingale captures that feeling of uncertainty and superstition. The characters are somewhere between the old and the new; believing in modern religion but still deeply tied to the stories of old - the creatures that hide in the dark, the demons lurking in corners, the spirits living in the woods.

The protagonist is Vasya, a feisty, stubborn girl who always manages to find her way into adventure and, often, trouble. Quick-witted and rebellious, it's hard not to fall in love with her instantly. There's a sense throughout that she is at one with nature, belonging to the very setting of the novel - the wild, rugged landscape of her youth. She is most at home when running and playing in the woods.

When her father remarries and brings Vasya's intense and devout new stepmother back to their village, the safety of everyone is threatened. Her stepmother refuses to appease the creatures of the forest and darkness creeps ever closer. The arrival of a young priest who challenges the people's belief in the old spirits endangers them further. It is Vasya - and her own strange gifts - who is the family's only chance against the evil spirits at work.

A haunting story; one so deeply atmospheric that you can almost feel the cold air on your skin as you're reading.

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Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,071 reviews38.2k followers
October 4, 2022
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! This sound is not coming from the construction workers or the firefighters’ axes who are trying to enter my kitchen that I put on fire with my last cooking attempt. I literally hit my head against the wall several times. BECAUSE I SHOULD HAVE READ THIS BOOK BEFORE! WTH I waited tooooooooo lonnngggg!!! I already call my SLAP CLUB (the place I founded to punish the dislikable, detesting characters of the books) to teach me a lesson to choice my books wisely!

Katherine Arden did a fantastic job by taking us a journey to a magical world: quite mash up of Russian classics, folklore, mythology and fairy tales. And you enjoy every step you take, every minute you witness about the character’s lives in this world. You turn into a part of the story and connect with all those mythological creatures and you actually feel the snowflakes brush your cheeks and you feel your bones shuddering because the cold and demons waiting for you take to the end of the world.

Vasilisa is one of the bravest, toughest heroine who is raised with Dunya’s fairy tales and sees the invisible creatures and talks with them. Her mother died when she’s giving birth to her and after his father’s second marriage she lives with her disapproving step mother suffering from psychosis (she also sees the creatures just like Vasilisa does but she thinks they are evil and she is afraid of them.) step sister, brothers and authoritative father.

Vasilisa’s specialty to bond with the creatures compassionately instead of scarring them turns her into an outcast. She doesn’t want to marry, have kids or dream for a life a girl in her ages gives anything to have. She is a good horse rider. She likes to run into the woods. She believes in fairytales because she lives in one of them. She prefers befriending the creatures over the friendship of other people talking behind her back and thinking there is something wrong with her. (They think she is cursed, she is a witch like her dead mother!)

Then one day faith brings the frost-demon and Vasilisa together and their crossed paths push them into their devoted, destined journey when bear and a beautiful nightingale involve in their story. Vasilisa’ finally finds out what she’s destined for and what her life purpose is.
Stunning, riveting, poetic writing, breathtaking , aesthetic atmosphere, well-rounded, perfectly build characters , dark, compelling approach to the classic fairytales and some lyrical elements of Russian classics you reread at least ten times MAKE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK AND LOVE IT WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART COMPASSIONATELY.

We’re lately introduced to Morozko but I think some kind of epic, devoted and unconditional romance story is about to come at the sequels between him and Vasilisa ( I know I deserved spoilers for waiting for too long to start this epic journey but please have mercy! I already banged my head too much and probably lost the last functioning grey cells because of hitting so hard. I see double Chardonnay bottles so maybe my semi concussion is not a bad thing!)

As a summary: I LOVED IT SO MUCH AND I SHOULD READ THE OTHER TWO BOOKS ASAP. Period.

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Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,588 reviews153k followers
December 10, 2020
description
Haunting. Riveting. Entrancing.

This is the sort of book that sweeps you on a journey .
"I want to save you, Vasilisa Petrovna," he said. "I will save you all. There are dark forces that you do not understand."

To his surprise, and perhaps to her, she laughed.
Vasilisa "Vasya" Petrovna lives during the "old Russia" - back when fairy and folk tales were not legends.

Vasya always possessed the second sight, which made for some interesting conversations with the various creatures living in and around her home. All the spirits that live in and around her house were quite peculiar,such as the origins of the domovoi:
I am here because the house is here. If the house weren't here, I wouldn't be either
Soon, Vasya's gentle childhood - spent conversing with the domovoi and the vazila (who guards the stables) - is put to an abrupt end.

Her father remarries and while the new woman has the second sight, she interprets the gentle protective spirits as "demons." In an effort to "protect" the now-teenage Vasya, her father (egged on and persuaded by her step mother) is trying to marry her off.

And, to top it all, a priest moves into their house and is hell-bent (ha) on saving Vasya's soul but all he succeeds in doing is a lot of fear-mongering and weakening of the protective spirits. He quickly becomes obsessed with Vasya and her impertinence.

Without the spirits to protect them, Vasya must face the ever increasing danger of the old gods - alone and armed with nothing by her sheer force of will.

I really enjoyed this one - there's just something so magical about having this novel set in the dead of winter with the old gods circling the dimly lit sleepy cottage.

Vasya lives in a world where being a happy homemaker is the highest achievement of any girl. I appreciated how the author showed Vasya's defiance in small ways (yet ultimately significant ways) - not every girl in YA fiction needs to start an uprising.
A soft voice and a bent head were more fitting when a woman addressed a priest. This girl stared at him brazenly in the face with fey green eyes
Overall, I really enjoyed this one and have already checked out the sequel - I'm so, so curious to see what happens next!

P.s. There is a glossery located in the last few pages. ( hallelujah! ) The author used a few common Russian words and a few loose translations (i.e. the spelling of "domovoi" was intended to make it easier for English readers to read). I did struggle a bit to hold all the words in my head...only to discover the glossary at the end. Typical!


The 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge - A book recommended by a book blogger (Kate)>

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Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
July 27, 2017
To see this review and Q&A with the author, please visit www.readrantrockandroll.com

Words cannot describe how much I cherish this book. The characters were described so well and the story was absolutely fantastic and so magical. ♡♡♡

Certain parts of the story felt so nostalgic to me. It reminded me of my upbringing with my Russian grandmother and our old Orthodox Church. Matyushka, Batyushka and many of the other words in the story evoked a glimpse into my past. There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about this book. Happy with all of it, every word, even the ending.

I would definitely recommend reading the glossary in the back of the book first to understand the meaning of some of the words. ♡♡♡

I have high expectations and can’t wait for the second book “The Girl in the Tower.”

5***** and I’m definitely purchasing this one!
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,079 reviews17.2k followers
May 21, 2019
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. 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.”

So this was... unexpectedly amazing. Somehow, I went into this thinking it was a slow-paced, long-developing high fantasy novel, which is just completely untrue. The Bear and the Nightingale, instead, is a compulsively bingeable, gorgeously written, and ridiculously compelling dark fairytale.

Thinking back on this book, there are three things that stand out to me.

➽ a e s t h e t i c

Okay, first of all, this book has completely stunning writing. I can’t believe this is a debut, because the words just feel like they fly off the pages. But also, this is one of the most aestheticy books I have ever read and I love it. It’s just all so intriguing and so atmospheric Wintrey setting. Magical forest. Fairy tale elements. Folklore gone right. Folklore gone wrong. Demons and dark creatures. Creatures somewhere in between.

➽ c h a r a c t e r s

There’s an excellent cast of side characters; I’m a huge fan of Vasilisa’s sister and brother. Even the villains of the book, especially her stepmother, gained my sympathy; she is a fantastically compelling villain, so well-written that she becomes all the more sympathetic. But my favorite part of this whole book was Vasilisa and her character arc. She starts out a more naive character, young and treated well by her father, yet driven by her desire to be free and one with nature. But as the mistreatment by her stepmother grows, she becomes more and more determined to be free, which I found made for a very compelling character arc. Thus, even when she’s not driving the plot, she feels like a major force in the book.

➽ t h e m e s

The Bear and the Nightingale is a dark fairytale, and like any good dark fairytale, it has a lot of meaning beneath the surface. This book deals primarily with religious oppression, and the way religion can be used for destruction. But it also deals with the specificity of the destruction of nature. Vasilisa's world is crumbling around her, and it's so difficult to witness. She loves this world so deeply. And just like our natural world, it is beginning to crumble.

I don’t know how I’ll feel about book two, but I’m super excited based off where this ended. There’s a nice setup for some moral greyness, maybe, and I really like that the love interest is a death frost demon. No, really. Beautiful and terrifying, and with the vibe of every dark fairytale , I cannot recommend this enough.

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Profile Image for Robin Hobb.
Author 273 books96.3k followers
November 12, 2015
Just finished reading an ARC of this forthcoming book. You will have to wait until 201 to get your hands on it.

First, a metaphor. Have you ever been about to eat something, thinking it's flavored with vanilla and cinnamon? Then you bite into it and discover ginger and nutmeg (also favorites of mine.)

This book is a bit like that. It's fantasy. Okay, I've read lots of that. It's told rather like a fairy tale. Okay, ready for that.

It's told a bit like a Russian fairy tale only the setting is very grounded in a reality that will leave your nose and toes chilled and make you wish a horse like that would come your way.

That's as close as I'm coming to a spoiler. You deserve to read this book so the story unfolds page by page. Put it on your shopping list.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,480 reviews29.8k followers
November 18, 2019
enchanting is really the only way to describe this book. this was the type of story that makes you want to go back to being a child who unconditionally believed in magic and wishes and the possibility of all things.

some might say this story was too slow, but i prefer to think of it as being patient. others might complain that there was no plot, but i saw it as being humble. and some could claim the writing was stiff, but i felt the language embodied the frigidity of long russian winters. everything about this felt true to the characterisation of the type of folklore story that this was.

i will definitely be picking this up again come wintertime, cosily bundled up near a fire with a cup of hot chocolate. because this book is the sort of magical warmth and comfort that everyone deserves during the coldest of times.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Petrik.
655 reviews40k followers
January 22, 2022
I enjoyed reading this debut. The Bear and the Nightingale is an atmospheric read with a likable main character.

Similar to Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, one of the reasons I wanted to read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is because I want to imagine how it feels to live in the wintery season. Actually, on that note, if you love Spinning Silver, I think you should give this novel a try as well; there are a lot of similarities between the two books, though I liked Spinning Silver more. But back on point. As someone who lived in a tropical country all his life, winter, snow, or cold seasons are pretty close to being fantasy weather for me. I wanted to read a fantasy book that will make me feel this experience, and with the combination of cold air conditioners, I got what I wanted from reading The Bear and the Nightingale.

“You are too attached to things as they are,” said Morozko, combing the mare’s withers. He glanced down idly. “You must allow things to be what best suits your purpose. And then they will.”


The Bear and the Nightingale is Katherine Arden's debut novel, and it's also the first installment in The Winternight Trilogy. For years, people constantly recommended The Winternight Trilogy as one of the most appropriate books to read during the winter season, and I can definitely understand why now. Arden's capability to evoke the coldness of the weather with her prose is just undeniable, and I genuinely felt cold while I was reading this book. Honestly, it almost felt like the weather/nature of the setting itself has become one of the main characters of the story. That's what I thought, and then I read this section of the interview at the back of the book where the author said:

“People living in the Middle Ages, in an environment as harsh as Northern Russia, were intimately acquainted with the weather. Their lives literally depended on it. In The Bear and the Nightingale, the weather is pretty much a character in and of itself, personified, in a way, by the various spirits that populate the novel. Every action and event in the book is some way tied to the land: heat, bitter cold, snowstorms, fires.”
—Katherine Arden


It’s no wonder that I had that feeling, and I think Arden has done an incredible job with her world-building. I’m not usually a fan of historical fantasy. I bounced off plenty of them already. However, Arden’s Russian-inspired historical fantasy debut was engaging and atmospheric. I love folktales, and although I’m well-versed in Japanese folktales due to the massive number of manga I’ve read, I admittedly knew pretty little about Russian folktales. Arden integrated many spirits from Russian folklores, and I had a blast searching and learning about each of them mentioned here, and I know I’ll gladly do the same thing again for the remaining books in the series. Plus, Arden also included the clash of faith to increase the pull of the narrative.

“I have never seen Tsargrad, or angels, or heard the voice of God. But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing. We have never needed saving before.”


But I'll be lying if I said that these are the best parts of The Bear and the Nightingale. Lyrical prose and atmospheric setting aside, Arden's debut novel is more compelling due to the main character: Vasilisa Petrovna. Vasilisa, also known as Vasya, was, for me, the main highlight of The Bear and the Nightingale. I found Vasya to be an incredibly likable character. She may be too good at the things she did, but her development was well done, and I expect my fondness of her will only grow after I read the two remaining books in the trilogy. Her bravery is admirable, and I loved reading about her relationship with her siblings. These two were definitively the main driving force of the narrative for me.

“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. 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.”


Unfortunately, despite all the praises I have for this book, two factors did prevent me from enjoying this book further. First, the terminologies and nicknames. I'm not sure about this, and this could be a common occurrence in Russian-inspired fantasy, but each character in The Bear and the Nightingale has three or four nicknames. There weren't a lot of characters in this novel per se, but the multiple nicknames and the similarity of them all made it longer than it should for me to remember who's actually who. Secondly, I felt that the final section of The Bear and the Nightingale should be longer. The ending felt a bit anti-climactic to me because it ended too quickly.

“Where greater virtue fails, the lesser must do its poor best,”


That being said, these are minor issues I had with the book. There's no denying that I had a great time reading The Bear and the Nightingale. This was an impressive atmospheric historical fantasy debut, and I have a good feeling the subsequent books will be even better. I look forward to reading The Girl in the Tower in February.

Picture: The Bear and the Nightingale by Afterblossom



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Profile Image for Elena May.
Author 6 books684 followers
February 9, 2020
I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing.

That was amazing.

Saving the world is always hard. It can be a challenge even when you have loyal friends and numerous supporters on your side. Then imagine how much harder it is when your own family is actively sabotaging your attempts to help. When your entire community casts you out and punishes you for doing the right thing. When they not only make your work harder, but give you scorn instead of gratitude.

That’s exactly what Vasya is facing. It can be frustrating, and you want to grab these people, shake them and scream into their faces. But that’s how it is, and Vasya makes the best out of it, and more!

The story is somewhat inspired by the Russian folktales of Vasilisa the Beautiful and the strange creatures and spirits she encounters on her adventures:


It’s not a straight-up retelling of any particular fairy-tale (at least as far as I remember – it’s been a while since I’ve read them.) Still, it has this fairy-tale feel, all the while having complex, relatable characters. The book is extremely easy to get into. I first started it on the train, after a sleepless night and a particularly taxing flight, when I didn’t think I’d be able to concentrate on a new book with new characters. And yet, it pulled me right in.

Let’s start with the plot.

The book transports us to the Middle Ages, into the vast wilderness of northern Rus’ (to become Russia a few centuries later.) Although people have accepted Christianity, they still respect the old ways and leave offerings to the multitudes of spirits who live around – a spirit of the house, of the stables, of the woods, the rusalka in the lake, etc. Two women are the only people in the village with the ability to see these creatures – young Vasya and her stepmother, Anna.

It’s fascinating how the two react to their abilities in vastly different ways. While Vasya talks to the spirits and befriends them, Anna is terrified. She calls them ‘demons’ and ‘devils’ and seeks to escape them in the church. Although she plays the role of the evil stepmother, I had a lot of sympathy for her, but I’ll get to that later.

Vasya is surrounded by a loving (though not always understanding) family – her father, Pyotr, a sister, a stepsister, and a horde of protective brothers. Another notable character is the nursemaid, Dunya, who is like a mother to Vasya and who teaches her much of the old lore. Pyotr is a decent man with ultimately good intentions, but he makes a series of stupid decision in the name of protecting his children, which leads him to absolute disaster. In fact, all of Vasya’s family always stay in her way.

The status quo is shattered when a new priest, Konstantin, arrives in the village. He preaches that people should fear God and abandon the old ways. The villagers stop giving offering, and the spirits-protectors grow weak. At the same time, the big bad, the Bear, is about to awake, and there’s no one to protect the people. Vasya tries to keep the spirits alive, but it is hard work on her own, and the villagers soon label her a witch and blame her for all their misfortunes, which are, in fact, a result of them neglecting the spirits.

Konstantin is charismatic and good-looking and everyone adores him and listens to him. But he can’t get Vasya to behave, and this drives him crazy. He grows creepily obsessed with her, and feels guilty about it, which only feeds his love-hate. Often, when I was reading about him, the song “Hellfire” from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame was playing inside my head because the situation was very much the same. The only difference is that Vasya is more innocent than Esmeralda and has no idea what Konstantin is thinking, which makes everything even more disturbing.

The rusalka (lake spirit) offers to eat him on two occasions, and, to my deepest regret, Vasya stops her. She’s obviously a better person than I am. Okay, I realize letting a spirit eat a human might be a wrong message to give in a children’s / YA book, but it would have saved so many lives and avoided so much suffering. I probably sound like a monster, but I challenge you to read this book and then come back and tell me you don’t want the rusalka to eat Konstantin!

On top of being a creep, Konstantin is too dumb to live. I realized from the first moment it sounded, and yet he kept listening to it and making a bigger and a bigger mess. At one point, he realizes he’s made a mistake and tries to fix it, by causing an even greater disaster. It was somewhat darkly amusing to watch.

Oh, and speaking of darkly amusing, it was kind of funny how the Metropolitan uses Pyotr’s lands and family as a garbage collection point for all the undesirables, who could cause problems to the Grand Prince. Pyotr’s family is the solution to everything. Some cousin can threaten the Prince’s son’s rule? Easy – marry him off to Pyotr’s daughter! The Prince’s daughter is mad and might embarrass him? Marry her off to Pyotr! Konstantin is too charismatic and might challenge the Prince? Send him off to Pyotr’s lands! Yeah, at one point I had to wonder if there are no other noblemen in the wilderness...

Vasya’s interactions with the spirits, her need to challenge her family at every step, the rising sense of dread – it was all amazing! All the prophecies, the evils starting to come one by one, and then you see the inevitable end but there is nothing you can do. This book is insanely atmospheric! All the locations, from a busy city to a wild, imposing forest, are described so well they capture your imagination.

Just look at Vasya’s journey to the winter king’s dwelling. At the end of the world, at the back of the north wind. A house that is a fir growth but also a house, and you see both at the same time, and it makes you dizzy unless you will yourself to see only one. And the horse that is also a nightingale! Pure magic!

Of course, nothing can be perfect, and I do have a few complains. Still, they are more of a personal preference and not a critique on the quality. Let’s get these out of the way:

The treatment of Anna Ivanovna:

Anna plays the role of the evil stepmother, but it’s worth noting how she ended up there. She is raised to be a good Christian woman, but she is the only one in her community cursed with seeing the spirits, and everyone thinks she is mad and ridicules her. It is understandable that she is scared and questioning her sanity, but no one, not even the supposedly good characters, show her any kind of kindness.

The way Konstantin treats her is completely horrendous. At one point she tells him she just wants him to see her, and he replies “I see you, but there is not much to see.” Anna is exactly the type of woman he and others like him preach women should be like. And when she behaves exactly in the way he asks of her, he scorns her for it. He tells women how they should act, and when they disobey, like Vasya, he labels them demons, when they obey, like Anna, he scorns them and thinks of them as boring and disposable. Did I mention I want the rusalka to eat him?

The thing is, it’s not just Konstantin who treats her like this. Not a single character has any sympathy for her, and, at points, the narrative itself seems to demonize her, and this bothered me. I mean, it’s great Vasya reacted so well to seeing spirits no one else could, but I think it’s understandable if other people would react differently. I find it sad how Anna and Vasya shared a gift, but, instead of bringing them closer together, it drew them apart.

Also, it bothered me how she was always referred to as old, with mentions of white hair and gaps between her teeth. How old is she, exactly? When she marries Pyotr, she’s said to be barely older than Vasya’s older sister, Olga, who is 14 at the time. So let’s say that Anna is 16 then, or, let’s be generous, 18. At the wedding, I believe Vasya is 7 or possibly even older. When the main events take place, Vasya is 14. Which means Anna is at most 25, quite possibly even younger.

Guys, 25! I understand it’s the Middle Ages and people lived shorter lives, but that’s pushing it. The main reason why the average lifespan at the time was very low was the high child mortality. It’s not like people dropped dead at 30. In fact, if they survived childhood and didn’t catch any infectious diseases, they could survive well into old age. And it’s most definitely not the case that people were aging to match the average lifespan, so the 25 of the time is today’s 70.

The fairy-tale used to set up the book:

In the very first scene in this book, we see Vasya’s family years before she is born. The nursemaid, Dunya, tells the children a bedtime story about the frost-demon, Morozko. The tale goes as follows:

A good girl, Marfa, has an evil stepmother and a lazy stepsister, Liza. Her stepmother hates her and suggest to her husband they should wed her to the frost-demon, Morozko (which essentially means they leave her in a cold to die.) They send her to the woods, and Morozko comes, bringing cold winds with him.

He asks Marfa if she’s cold, and, of course, she’s freezing. But she is “a well-brought-up girl who bore her troubles uncomplainingly,” and so she tells him she’s fine. He makes it colder and colder and repeatedly asks her how she’s doing, and she repeatedly answers that all is well. Morozko is impressed and sends her back with a prince’s ransom.

The stepmother is jealous and sends Liza to Morozko, hoping she’ll return with a treasure as well. Morozko asks her if she’s cold, and she says she is. He asks her repeatedly, and she always answers that she’s freezing. He kills her. The end.

And this tale has an absolutely terrible message. It’s not the author’s fault, of course, it’s folklore, but I’m not sure the tale was a right choice as it didn’t really fit with the rest of the book.

The reason the story annoyed me is that it is Liza who did the right thing. So many girls and women have been brought up to ignore their own needs and to suffer in silence. I could relate to this tale in a weirdly literal way. Outside of writing, I work in a very male-dominated field. I’m the only woman in a team of 10, and we sit in a big open office, where the team sitting next to us is 100% male. Due to dress code, the guys are always wearing more clothes than the weather suggests and are complaining about how hot it is. This often results in open windows in the middle of winter, and I cannot possibly count all the times I’ve been freezing but kept quiet so I wouldn’t inconvenience the others. And I was really annoyed at myself for it.

When I read this tale, I kept thinking, it’s Liza who did the braver thing. It’s Liza who did the harder thing.

The story might set up the ambience, but not the overall tone of the book. How does Vasya fit in? She is anything but “a well-brought-up girl” – everyone who meets her mentions it at every opportunity! I kept waiting for the tale to be subverted in some way. Morozko is an actual character in the book later on, and I kept waiting for him to say that’s not what actually happened. Yet, he made a mention of the old tales and how the braver maidens sometimes survived him, and he seemed to confirm it.

Some miscellaneous minor things that bugged me:

- The prophecy. Vasya receives a warning: The last part never happened. It made me expect , and I’m soooo happy it never came to pass, but then I wonder why it was there. Perhaps it’s coming up in the sequel? To be fair, the second part of the prophecy also hasn’t happened yet (thankfully!) although .

- We keep hearing how Morozko is a trickster and shouldn’t be trusted, but we don’t see him trick anyone, and his agenda is pretty clear and straightforward from the beginning. Speaking of, why is Dunya freaking out so much about giving Vasya the talisman? Morozko doesn’t want her to join his army; he just wants to protect her. So much trouble could have been spared with some communication skills!

- The Bear backstory was a bit underwhelming. I’m hoping Morozko was withholding information from Vasya, as he initially planned, and we’ll hear more of it in following books, but we were made to expect some epic tale of magic and got something simple and superficial. Still hoping there’s more to it.

- The title seems to have been chosen to sound magical and whimsical, but I don’t think it’s really fitting. The Nightingale is not central to the story and the Bear and the Nightingale are not the two main opposing forces.

Okay, enough complaining, the book is truly gorgeous. The characters are layered and seem real, even when you hate them. It’s so frustrating to think about how easier everything would have been if people had listened to Vasya and taken her serious, and, sadly, this applies to many real life situations.

Some of the main plot points might seem derivative at a first glance – a tomboy girl, struggling with gender roles, the old gods weakening when people stop believing in them – we’ve seen these before. Still, it worked really well, and I loved it that the “girly girls,” Olga and Irina, weren’t demonized to make Vasya look better. They were great characters in their own right, and Vasya didn’t envy them or despise them, but loved them as they loved her, which all seemed very natural.

Overall, I loved how coherent the mythology was. In many fantasy books, we see a hodgepodge of mythology creatures, with no explanation of how they coexist and interact. Here, perhaps because the book is based on a set of specific folk tales, it all fit together really well.

I should confess I now have a bit of a crush on Morozko. I know, a frost-demon, what could possibly go wrong? Vasya seems to be on the same boat though in her case it’s possible she’s more in love with the idea of magic and the old world, and the sense of freedom he represents. Curious to see where this goes!

I’m looking forward to the sequel and will be especially happy if we get a graphic scene of the rusalka eating a certain priest :D
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,504 reviews24.5k followers
April 5, 2019
This is an atmospheric and intoxicating read that draws on history and Russian fairytales. Set in medieval times, it charts the origins of Vasya's birth and her mother's determination to have a daughter endowed with her grandmother's powers despite it meaning her death in childbirth. The novel begins with Dunya telling the story of Frost, a harbinger for what comes later.

Vasya is an enchanting rough and tumble girl, more at home in the wild outdoors and who chafes at the limitations pressed upon her. She has the abilities of her grandmother and can see, hear and feel what others cannot. She communes with and feeds the protective guardian spirits of her home, stables, forests and water. She is fearless, brave, kind of spirit, generous and has a heart full of love. All is well until the arrival of Anna and the priest, Konstantin, begin to tear apart the community through fear, presaging the bitterest cold weather, crop failures, famine and death. A gifted jewel with magical properties proves to be a vital protective talisman for our Vasya.

Anna, like Vasya, can see and hear what others cannot. However, this engenders terrifying fear in her and a zealous religious piety. Konstantin sees it as his duty to move the community to Christian beliefs and he achieves this by raising the fear factor. People begin to no longer value their spirits and guardians and abandon them. And as they wither and diminish, the dead stalk the living and the fortunes of the place hang in the balance. The only hope is Vasya, who by now is rumoured to be a witch who must be beaten into submission through marriage or convent. Neither is an acceptable option and Vasya enters the icy forest harbouring desperate fantastical dangers. Aided by the Winter King and Solovey, the nightingale, Vasya is to battle the bear for the soul of the world.

This novel pierces humanity's Achilles heel to let us see how anger and fear allow people to let in the forces of destruction to wreak havoc. We only have to look at the world and see this is so. This is a richly imagined spellbinding novel that entrances the reader. It dwells on the themes of love, loss and what it is to be different. I understand there are to be two further books to come. I adored this story completely and urge others to read it. A brilliant book! Thanks to Random House Ebury for an ARC.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,372 reviews9,450 followers
February 6, 2017
Very unpopular opinion time because it seems everyone in the world loves this book :-/

I liked certain things about the book but overall it wasn't for me. Don't know if it was the book or my mood but I'm glad there are so many people loving it.

I liked the characters enough and the storyline for the most part but I don't know. Sigh ...
Profile Image for Candace.
1,174 reviews4,121 followers
June 7, 2017
Hmm... I'm at a loss with this one. I can't say that I loved it, but I didn't dislike it either. I feel like I'm missing something. This is a story that I should probably go back and re-read at a time when I can give it my full attention...but I didn't feel a strong enough connection the first time around to make me want to do that.

When I listen to an audiobook, I'm usually doing something else that requires part of my attention (i.e. driving). For this reason, I try to keep my audiobook selections pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this book proved to be too detailed for me to follow in that format. I ended up having to "rewind" several times to reorient myself because I'd find myself completely lost.

'The Bear and the Nightingale' ended up being a bit too complicated of a story for me to take in via audiobook. There were details and connections that I'm sure I missed. The fact that I didn't understand some of the Russian words and wasn't able to look them up at the time, certainly contributed to my bewilderment.

In a nutshell, the story dealt with religious persecution as the "old gods" and religions were being pushed out by Christianity. The story is set in medieval Russia and the imagery crafted by the author was beautiful. Even when I was admittedly lost, I greatly enjoyed the detailed descriptions provided.

The heroine, Vasya, had special abilities and represented "good" in this book. Her mother was determined to have her, even knowing that she would sacrifice her own life. As a result, Vasya grows up to be resented by her father in a way.

When her father decides to remarry, largely in an attempt to tame the spirited Vasya, a political marriage is arranged to Anna. Anna had planned to become a nun and religion is a very large part of her identity. To say the least, she ended up being a nightmare for Vasya.

When the self-righteous Anna teams up with the fear-mongering priest, Konstantin, nobody is safe. Let the witch hunts begin!

Meanwhile, Vasya is given a protective talisman. She is tied to "Frost", the winter demon king. Through their abilities and old "magic" the two are interconnected. -- I won't lie. I am hazy on the details here.

In many ways, this story was intriguing. At some point, I might give it another try because I'm certain that I missed a great deal. I had a hard time staying focused on this story, not because it was bad, but because I was preoccupied. Nonetheless, it ended up being a "good but not great" read for me this time around. It just didn't keep my attention.

Check out more of my reviews at www.bookaddicthaven.com
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,296 reviews7,113 followers
November 2, 2016
Magical is the word that best describes this unusual tale, in every sense. I have to say that I've not read anything quite like this one, but believe me, that IS meant as a compliment.

It transports the reader back to medieval Russia, to a place thick with forests and deep crisp glistening snow. It is here that we find Vasya, and her family. Vasya is a child of nature, a wild and wilful girl. She has powers that leave the villagers questioning the nature of those powers, many believing that she's a witch. It's difficult to go into too much detail without spoiling it for other readers, but this is a most unusual tale that reads like a fairytale but was written with a more adult audience in mind.

The imagery is simply wonderful, the characters leap out of the page, and the storyline is a mixture of history and Russian folklore. What an ambitious debut novel this is, but Katherine Arden has pulled it off beautifully.

*Thank you to Netgalley, Random House/Ebury, & Katherine Arden for my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest
Profile Image for karen.
3,968 reviews170k followers
June 13, 2018
oooh, goodreads choice awards semifinalist for best fantasy AND debut goodreads author! what will happen?

this is a stunning debut that perfectly mimics the tone of a classic fairytale, but breathes new and exciting life into the familiar themes with lyrical writing, strong characters, and by weaving in elements of russian folklore, which were mostly unfamiliar to me, and therefore fresh and exotic.

quickplot first, then i will return to these three strengths in greater detail.

pyotr vladimirovich is a lord in medieval rus', responsible for the well-being of several villages in the heavily-forested wilderness, subject to his late wife marina's half-brother, the grand prince in moscow. he has five children, the youngest of which is a daughter named vasilisa/vasya, whose birth caused marina's death. it was a risky, late pregnancy, but marina was determined to have her, knowing that vasya would be her only child gifted with the magical birthright held by her bloodline's women. vasya grows up with a curious mind and a wandering nature - dressing like a boy, drawn to exploring the forest, and befriending the house spirits the villagers all leave ritual offerings for, in a long-standing superstitious tradition, but which only she is able to see. it's a hard life, with food shortages during the long cold winters, and vasya's latent power attracts the attention of morozko, an old spirit personifying the relentless cold known by many different appellations: demon of winter, death-god, frost demon, winter-king. when pyotr is in moscow arranging his daughter olga's marriage, and unexpectedly finding himself married off to an equally-reluctant bride as a political favor, morozko is insulted by one of pyotr's sons, whom he allows to live in exchange for the promise of vasya's hand in marriage. this arrangement dismays vasya's nurse dunya, who tries to put it off as long as possible, and it is more or less forgotten as time passes and more pressing concerns arise, specifically the influence of an ambitious priest, adored by vasya's stepmother, who forbids the villagers to continue their practice of acknowledging the household spirits, which results in horrors only vasya has the power to prevent.

arden's writing is the book's strongest selling point: evocative, beautifully descriptive, imagery that pops with details alive enough to make you smell the smoke and feel the cold; it's haunting, vivid, and poetic. when pyotr and his sons leave their village in order to meet with their royal relative in moscow, they encounter a city of smiling enemies and barbed favors described as lusty and squalid, like a fair woman with feet caked in filth.

occasionally, it can get a little too adjective-crazed:

Great trees threw sooty shadows onto the raw wood of the little church.

but for the most part, it is well-controlled .

character is also an easy sell - vasilisa, like all of the best fairytale heroines, is the inheritor of a great responsibility; the fulfillment of a prophecy that is equal parts burden and gift. her wildness is part of her appeal; power and freedom and all the beauty and mystery of nature: She looked like a wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission. she doesn't know the extent of her powers, or even that she has powers, but they can be felt by others, like her father, who understands that the ordinary roles available to women; wife and mother, would ruin something essential to her character.

"She is a handsome girl," said Pyotr. "Though a savage. She needs a husband; it would steady her." But as he spoke, an image came to him of his wild girl wedded and bedded, sweating over an oven. The image filled him with a strange regret, and he shook it away.

even the priest konstantin is drawn to her, despite his severity towards her, and laments the future he is nonetheless pushing her towards:

He saw all at once, as Pyotr had seen, the wild thing brought indoors, busy and breathless, a woman like other women. Like Pyotr, he felt a strange sorrow and shook it away. ..he thought again of years, of childbearing and exhaustion. The wildness gone, the hawk's grace chained up…He swallowed. It is for the best. The wildness was sinful.

for me, the themes were equally fascinating - i'm always drawn to books focused on transitional periods; clashes between tradition and modernity, the old ways and the new. one of the best of these is Morality Play by barry unsworth, which is about a troupe of actors in the 1300's who dared perform a play that wasn't based upon biblical events and the uneasiness and backlash this causes. while christianity was by no means new to medieval rus', the confrontation here between religion and tradition is devastating, made more so by the fact that the offerings to the house spirits, followed by the villagers as a tradition with no real belief behind them, turn out to be all that is holding the evil at bay.

a beautiful debut, and i'm very excited to see what else she's got in the works.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Anne.
3,792 reviews69k followers
July 15, 2021
This is lovely...but not much happens.
I kept hearing how this was so amazing and whatnot, but it was (looking back on it) slightly boring and could have been seriously condensed. By a lot of pages.
BUT. <--that's just me.
I don't dig lyrical shit all that much.
Anyway, this was set in Russia, which got my attention right away. Very cool.
So the (super-condensed) gist is that this girl, Vasya, is a bit magical and she does some helpful magical stuff to save all the ungrateful peasants.

description

Only it takes a long time to get to that part.
In fact, it takes a long time to get to anything remotely action-y in this book. But, unbelievably, I'm still interested. There's something here that's just undefinably good, even though I'm not one for a lot of nonsense and meandering in my books. This one definitely rambles around the point and makes you sit still while it tells you everything about this girl's life. I say girl, but she becomes a young woman while you read. And you feel like you've earned her womanhood right alongside her by the time she gets around to having her first period.

description

I kid, I kid!
But you honestly follow this chick from pre-birth, to birth, to childhood, to tweenhood, then into the early teens. <--because this is old-timey Russia and you're a woman at 12, so Vasya is fucking old as hell by the time she sets off to confront the one-eyed old man in the woods.
However, you do really feel like you get to know these characters (all of them) inside and out. <--that was nice.
And while I normally don't dig that slow style of storytelling, it worked better for me here than it has in other books.
In a good way, it kind of reminded me of the dense fairytales in Uprooted or Spinning Silver, but I didn't quite enjoy this as much as either of those. Possibly because this is a trilogy and it's going to take longer to tell the complete story? Or possibly because I don't know much about Russian folklore?

description

I don't know.
I think I might really have given this 4 stars except for the fact that weeks later I'm still debating on whether or not I want to read the second book. Just the idea of jumping into something this thick and crunchy again is filling me with a sense of waffle-y-ness about the entire endeavor.
I'm not sure what to do.
Did anyone else have this problem?
Profile Image for ✨ A ✨ .
424 reviews1,594 followers
October 15, 2020
“Fairy tales are sweet on winter nights, nothing more.”

Every moment I spent reading The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute pleasure. It was magical, atmospheric and very slow paced - so prepare yourself for that if you're going to be picking this up.

The writing was enchanting and I felt transported through words into this story.

Though this book is mainly about Vasya there are many chapters in POV of other characters and we get to know them as well. Arden gave us complex characters who are not all good. Most were selfish, power hungry and filled with fear.

Vasya was such a joy to read about. I loved her wild nature and refusal to conform to her towns expectations. She was always authentically Vasya and I cannot wait to see her character growth in the sequels.

Other characters I loved were Vasya's brother Alyosha and her nursemaid Dunya. I found Sasha's character really interesting and I hope we see him again in the future.

The pacing does pick up towards the end. There were a plenty of scenes that had me teary eyed. There is still so much unexplored and characters (as I've mentioned) that I really am excited to get to see again.

Note: this is not YA, this series is adult fantasy. Thanks for coming to my Tedtalk

__
Pre-Read
It's the middle of winter where I am and that means it is finally time for me to read the Winternight Trilogy!!

Coffee ✔ Cozy blanket ️✔️ Cats ✔️ Cold weather ✔️— I'M READY

Like seriously guys I bought this series in December and I've been waiting months for the perfect winter conditions
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,878 reviews22.6k followers
December 18, 2017
4.5 stars! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

In the northern lands of medieval Rus’, a daughter is born to Pyotr Vladimirovich, a boyar, lord over many lands, and his wife Marina, who dies in childbirth. But Marina, daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow and a mysterious, swan-like beggar girl, has bequeathed her daughter Vasilisa a mystical heritage.

description
Vasilisa the Brave (or Beautiful)

Vasilisa, or Vasya, grows up to be a spirited and rather rebellious young girl who, like an untamed colt, freely roams the fields and forest, and is able to see and communicate with the domovoi (a guardian of the home), rusalka (a dangerous water nymph), and other natural spirits of the home and land. Her beloved nurse Dunya tells Vasya and her siblings stories of Ivan and the Gray Wolf, the Firebird, and the frost-king, Morozko.

But Vasya’s carefree life ends when her father finally decides to remarry. He brings home a new wife from Moscow, Anna, the daughter of the prince of Moscow, who is also able to see the spirits of the land, but considers them devils and demons, clinging to her cross and her belief in the church. Pyotr also brings home a mysterious gift for Vasya, a necklace with a brilliant silver-blue jewel, given to him by Morozko, whom he met in Moscow. But Pyotr and the old nurse Dunya hold the necklace back from Vasya, fearing to give it to her.

Vasya’s life with Anna as her stepmother becomes strained: the strictly devout Anna is always at odds with the child of nature, who loves the magical creatures that terrify Anna. Life becomes even more difficult when a new priest arrives from Moscow, Father Konstantin, a handsome and charismatic man who preaches fiery sermons against the spirits of the land. As the people cease honoring (and leaving food for) these spirits, they weaken … but evil is waiting to step in as their protective influence wanes. Vasya finds herself at odds with her family and the villagers as she strives to protect them against unimaginable dangers that they thought existed only in fairy tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale weaves a richly colored tapestry, combining elements from various Russian fairy tales, a realistic description of life in medieval times, when Russia was not yet a unified country, and an independent an appealing heroine. The frost-king Morozko and his destructive brother, the Bear, play the primary fairy tale roles, but there are additional and sometimes delightfully unexpected Russian folklore elements like the stepmother sending her stepdaughter into the forest to find snowdrops in midwinter (from the story “Twelve Months”), Morozko (also known as Father Frost) sending lost girls home with a dowry of gold and jewels, the Sea-King’s daughter, and Vasilisa the Beautiful. (I’m sure I missed a few more!)

The atmosphere is well-developed, immersing you in life in medieval Rus’, a place where fairy tales may be true … which is not necessarily a comfortable thing. Enchantments can be good or evil, and the rusalka, vazila (a spirit that guards the stable and livestock) and other nature spirits are dangerous as well as helpful. Arden deftly illustrates their nature, so alien to humankind, as well as the need for mutual understanding and cooperative co-existence, which breaks down so badly in this tale.

A major theme ― in fact, it propels the entire plot ― is the conflict between old beliefs, respecting and caring for the nature spirits, and the newer religion, Christianity, which is generally, and emphatically, in the wrong in this book. Father Konstantin and Anna, and the rest of the villagers that flock to follow the priest, are poor examples of religious believers. At times it seems that the novel sets up believers as being generally weak and dangerously misguided, if not evil, though those characters are offset, to some extent at least, by Vasya’s brother Sasha, who has a sincere heart and desire for a religious vocation, and the monk he follows, Sergei Radonezhsky. In any case, The Bear and the Nightingale certainly effectively illustrates the power of fear, as well as the danger of using that fear, rather than love, to prompt religious devotion.

Another prominent theme is Vasya’s desire to live life freely, on her own terms, in a time when an arranged marriage or life in a convent were generally the only options for a properly raised female. Though it’s a modern theme, Arden integrates it well into the overall plot, and Vasya doesn’t come off as unduly anachronistic … though I did get a little tired of seeing her compared to an unbroken filly.

The cruelty of winter and the terrors of the deep, untamed forest, where wolves ― and worse things ― rove, are tangible. At the same time, The Bear and the Nightingale also incorporates references to actual historic figures, like Genghis Khan (at this time the Rus’ people were required to pay tributes to the conquering Horde), Sergei Radonezhsky, and princes of Moscow from the fourteenth century, although they are fictionalized.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a well-written and thoroughly thought-out fantasy, suspenseful and delightful. While it reads well as a stand-alone novel, Arden has indicated that two sequels are in process. I can’t wait to be transported to medieval Russia again!

Initial take: This Russia-based fantasy, set in old times when it was not yet a unified country, mingles Russian fairy tales of nature spirits, the Frost King and his destructive brother, the Bear, and a young woman's desire to live life on her own terms when an arranged marriage or life in a convent seem to be the only options for her. When a charismatic young priest comes to their town and rails against the people's beliefs in the nature spirits, Vasya is one of the very few to resist him. And the priest's actions are leading to the weakening of the protective spirits and the strengthening of the Bear.

I wasn't entirely on board with the conflict between old beliefs and nature spirits and Christianity, which was generally in the wrong in this book. But other than that, it's very well-written and well thought out, with Russian fairy tales woven in in some unexpectedly delightful ways.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!

Art credit: Photographer/artist is Viona Ielegems
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,255 reviews8,650 followers
July 9, 2022
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

3.5 stars

I added another new bookshelf to Goodreads: religious nutters

I preface my review with that statement, b/c it's important that you know exactly how off-putting I find anyone who uses religion as a crutch to excuse their abominable behavior.

Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter to ensure favorable winds as he sails to Troy? Kill him on his own alter. Spanish Inquisitioners torturing anyone not Catholic for the glory of God? Burn them at the stake. The KKK claiming that a darker skin tone is the mark of Cain to justify their prejudice and hate? String them up in their own front yard. #noimnotkidding

And I have to tell you, if it wasn't for that insufferable jackass Konstantin and the witch-hunting frenzy he worked his congregation into, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE would have easily been a 4+ star read.

I loved Vasya and (most of) her family. I was nearly as heartbroken as her father when Sasha left to become a monk. I felt Olga's frustration and amusement at her younger sister who refused to be tamed. And when that creep Karil made eyes at Vasya, I clenched my fists and ground my teeth along with Alyosha.

More than the characters, I loved the folklore. The house spirits, the nature fae, the pagan gods . . . Vasya's world was steeped in fantastical creatures. The vodianoy who stole Kolya's basket of freshly caught fish, the rusalka who agreed to stop drowning men from the village in exchange for friendship and fresh blossoms, and the vazila who taught Vasya to speak to horses are a mere fraction of what Arden's Rus' has to offer.

And if the villains in this tale had been limited to an evil stepmother and a dark god, it would've been my perfect read.

BUT. Religion. Christianity, to be specific, hellbent on choking the life out of everything not equally Christian, and how is this best accomplished? Fear and intimidation, naturally. Also blame. It's important to have an unconventional woman at hand, the better to accuse of witchcraft when the opportunity inevitably presents itself. *flares nostrils*

I'm not trying to discredit this tactic as a viable plot device, I'm just explaining my hatred of it. It's 100% a personal preference, which is why I have zero qualms about recommending THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE to anyone who interested in reading this type of folklore-influenced fantasy. YES, even those rare individuals who hate religious nutters as much as I do--apparently, this is the first book in a trilogy, and as I'm relatively confident that said issue is resolved, which means the next book has even greater potential for awesome.

Looking forward to it.

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for Katerina.
420 reviews16.7k followers
January 11, 2019
An eerie, whimsical winter fairytale.
❝ There was a time, not long ago
When flowers grew all year
When days were long
And nights star-strewn
And men lived free from fear ❞

Once upon a time, on the fringes of Russian wilderness, in a land of harsh winters wavering between superstition and the observance of the old spirits and demons and Christianity, a peculiar girl was born. She was untamed, fey, a cacophony. She could see and converse with sprites, she talked to horses, spent her days in the forest, and she was content until a fiery, gold-haired priest determined to instill the fear of God arrived in The Land of The Forest. As the offerings to the old ones were reduced, and fear gnawed at people's hearts, an ancient evil force was slowly awakening in the woods. A force beckoning to Vasya, calling for her blood. The blood of the witch. Is Vasya alone strong enough to defeat it, while her family turns against her, and her people blame her for their misfortunes? When famine strikes and the dead awaken, she will find the answer.
❝ But seasons turn
The wind blows from the south
The fires come, the storms, the spears
The sorrow and the dark ❞

The Bear and the Nightingale is not a perfect book. The pacing is slow, and sometimes I found myself losing track of the narration, as if it was something liquid slipping from my fingers. There is, though, a certain quality in it that manages to invade your senses. It is a read not meant for hot days under the sun, or sweet spring afternoons with a light breeze caressing your skin. No, it's a read for frosty winter nights, with a crackling fire and the wind howling, making your blood chill and your skin shiver. The Bear and the Nightingale is a vial containing the fresh scent of pines and warm honey-bread, burning incense and the crispy feel of winter winds. It's a portrait of a landscape covered in snowflakes, bordering on evil woods and the domain of the Winter King who steals maidens he showers with a prince's ransom, if he doesn't freeze them to death. It is an atmospheric, haunting tale drawing on Slavic folklore and myths, touching the subject of witchcraft and the inevitable clash between the gods of old times and christian doctrines and in the center of them all is a girl who does not wish to follow the path society has predetermined for her: marry or join a convent.
❝Wild birds die in cages.❞

What I admired the most about Katherine Arden's writing was the chilling ambience she created and the portayal of the chyerti, the little spirits or demons that are tied to households, animals, nature. There was something genuine and nostalgic in the way she described them, in the blurry lines between sin and redemption, and the answer to what is right and what is wrong lies somewhere in the middle. The same thing applies to her characters. As Vasya grows up, she is surrounded by many people, the storytelling nursemaid, the half-mad, pious step-mother, the angelic priest that preaches perdition, the family that loves but does not quite understand her. All of them play an important role in shaping Vasya's personality, with their obsessions, their tenderness and their cruelty. The wilderness in her was endearing, especially given that her intentions were pure and she kept saving everyone only to be branded as a heretic and a demon.
❝We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives.❞

The Bear and the Nightingale is a story that plays its mournful tune and tugs at your soul with light touches, but affects you nonetheless.
Profile Image for Maryam Rz..
220 reviews2,549 followers
January 6, 2020
5 STARS! Thank you, the thousand people who nagged at me to read this.

Soberly magical; solidly whimsical; silently wild; grimly light...The Bear and the Nightingale is all of this and none of this and more. Forgive me while I go weep in my bed of snow and dream of little demons and bird-horses and winter-kings 🥺



Review to come when I'm done with the series—meanwhile, do check out the playlist (Spotify LINK) filled with magical, spooky music and Russian folk songs to get the mood.

• • • • • •

[PRE-READ, 21 Apr 2019:]

I've been buried under the pile of people who've told me—again and again, relentlessly and heatedly, madly and maniacally—to “read this series read this series read this series
Alright alright! I'm reading it, Jesus...



So yes, due to my fear of being murdered by the fans if I don't pick it up ASAP, and since it's named Winternight Trilogy, I'll be reading the trilogy in a winter night! I know, funny, right??



No :|

Anyways, I'm now giving in to the hype after seeing Hallie's playlist for the book, because it's amazing 😍 and everyone who's read a single one of my reviews knows I'm a sucker for songs+books 😂

You should definitely read her review of The Bear and the Nightingale!

Unfortunately, waiting for winter is the worst torture ever now ughhh this is exactly how winter feels:



I'll never catch the damn meep meep thing 😐

P.S. it's come to my attention (via Caidyn's review) that Goodreads is, in fact, lying, and this is adult not young adult! Is that true?!

Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,208 followers
Want to read
October 16, 2018
This looks like a perfect winter read. I will save it for Christmas.
Profile Image for chan ☆.
1,013 reviews46.3k followers
November 20, 2021
i was excited about this one in the beginning because it was exactly as described to me by friends, a delightful fairytalesque story.

and then the historical aspect came in. and we've got the whole christian v. pagan thing. and old timey "i hate this man" marriages. blehhhh. wish this had just been a fairytale.
Profile Image for Christina Loeffler.
135 reviews17.4k followers
February 6, 2019
5, just take them all Arden stars!!!

Full review along with a recipe for Zharkoye (traditional Russian beef stew) featured on my blog Recipe & a Read!

So, first things first in this review: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was magical and whimsical and absolutely not what I was expecting at all. I’ve seen all the hype around this book / series, I’ve seen the fantastic reviews but for some reason I just kept glazing it over for other books. This, was a huge mistake and I wish I would’ve read it sooner because this was absolutely lovely.

So, what is up with this book? The where: medieval Russia (Rus’). The who: a daughter named Vasalisa (or Vasya) is the youngest child born to Pyotr Vladimirovich and his beautiful wife Marina. Marina dies during childbirth and is the daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Not only is she royalty, but her mother was a mysterious, aloof but stunning beggar girl with rumored mystical powers. Marina never felt like she’d had her mother’s daughter and despite the risks involved, had Vasya – knowing she was destined to be of her own mothers lineage.

Now hear me. Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing and weep for a nightingale.

As Vasya grows up in the wilderness of northern Russia, she plays and learns from not just her brothers and sisters but from the folk of old. There’s the domovoi who guards her home, she finds friendship with the rusalka and a dangerous water spirit who lures people into her depths. Dunya is Vasya’s beloved nurse, and the only mother she’s ever known. Dunya is also the weaver of tales and recounts the old Russian folktale of Morozko – the frost king. As Vasya grows, she is willful, rebellious and challenges her families and communities beliefs of what a “proper” girl is to do and say. When her father remarries he brings home a young but fragile girl who is able to see the folk of the land, but considers them demons endangering her immortal soul.

Along with Pytor and his new wife Anna comes a new priest for the townspeople, Father Konstantin, who is as handsome as he is supposed to be pious. However, beneath his golden exterior lurks something far more sinister. As Konstantin and Anna urge the townspeople to shun the spirits of old, bad and sinister things begin breaking free of their prisons from within the forest and Vasya is thrust into a magical race to see who comes out on top. Little does Vasya know, that Morozko has been doing everything in his power since she was a child to ensure their paths cross…

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 to me.

This is one of the hardest books I’ve ever tried to write a concise summary for. There is so much detail, history and folklore going on, on every single page that it’s an absolutely magical whirlwind of information. When I saw all the hype surrounding this book I added it to my TBR but kept pushing it off in favor of other books that seemed to appeal to me more directly. I borrowed this book from the library and only got around to it when they told me I only had a week left until it had to be returned. It took only a few chapters for me to become completely engrossed with Vasya’s story and completely and utterly enamored with Vasya herself.

Wild birds die in cages.

The Bear and the Nightingale is one of the most singularly outstanding books that I’ve read in a long time. The marriage of stunningly vivid and beautiful prose with a compelling story about a resilient girl left me aching for more. The imagery that Adren poured into this story absolutely transports the reader to an incredibly beautiful and foreign place. While I do think this book could be read any time of the year, there is something particularly magical about reading it during the winter because this definitely has all the *frosty* vibes (eh…eh….GET IT). This might be the most atmospheric novel I’ve ever read and beyond the lovely, lyrical prose and beautiful setting is this message that girls can be anything they want to be – no matter what society may dictate to them.

I do not understand “damned”. You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.

This isn’t a “race to the finish” novel, it’s like watching a flower slowly bloom. The longer you wait, the more you watch, the more beautiful it becomes. Arden honored these folktales and wove an intricate and inspiring story with a resilient and inspiring main character in Vasya and I think any reader could easily find pieces of themselves within her story. This was an absolutely stunning read from the first page to the last and while it’s a bit slower than typical fantasy novels – readers of all genres would do well to pick it up!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,851 reviews34.9k followers
November 17, 2016
Wow.....*Stunning*!!!!
Katherine Arden's lush and lovely debut novel deftly transports us to Russia in the 14th century with incredible lyricism- scents-sounds-vivid beauty-subtle intrigue- and gorgeous Russian folklore.

At the start Marina is frail and weak. She has 4 children and is pregnant with her 5th. Pyotr, her husband, and Dunya, her devoted nurse, both beg Marina not to keep the baby. They are fearful she will die. Marina had given Pyotr 3 sons and 1 daughter....but she was still hoping- waiting - determined to give birth to a daughter that carried her mother's magical spirits - a strength that her daughter Olga wasn't born with. Marina said it would be worth leaving her children motherless, to give birth to a daughter with her mothers spirits. If she died she made Pyotr and Dunya to promise to take care of her.
Marina did die. Her daughter, Vasya was born with her grandmothers magical powers, and strengths.

We soon notice Vasya has an insurmountable, unyielding amount of breezy - spunky - independent- energy. She marches the beat of a different drummer ....and she is simply irresistible.
The first time she got lost in the forest - ( she ran off to eat her honeycake), she was scared, cold, and shivering. She was lost in the dusk on the cusp of winter and it was going to snow. She meets a man with one gray eye and the other was missing.
She talks to the man. It's been a long time since he has seen a Russian girl. Vasya didn't understand what he meant- but she said:
"Do you know where we are?"
"I am lost. My father is Pyotr Vladimirovich. If you can take me home, he will see you fed, and give you a place beside the oven. It is going to snow".
He said he would help her -- but he wanted her to "come here" first and help him.
Vasya had no particular reason to be untrusting.
Well.....the man did frighten her. AND THIS IS WHEN I TRUELY FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS HEROINE ...because we watch her courage go in and out. One minute she speaks out strong defending herself - but then the next minute she loses faith and feels vulnerable. It's as if Vasya is AS BIG AS SHE IS SMALL...
and as SMALL AS SHE IS BIG. She is real - whole - so very human!
Her brother, Sasha finds her. She sobs..... They return home. Dunya and and her father are angry. They are worried that they Vasya is a wild child who will run off when she feels like it --and become completely unmanageable. The girl needs a mother Pyotr thinks. I'm thinking... hm? That easy huh? To control a free spirt? I was wondering how many mother's he consulted for such wisdom of his. Haha!

Pyotr may have been angry at Vasya - wanting to punish her. BUT I WAS ANGRY AT HIM!!!
"Pyotr thrashed his daughter the next day, and she wept, so he was not cruel"
Huh??? BEATING IS ALWAYS CRUEL......( no matter what century it is)
"Vasya was forbidden to leave the village, but for once, that was no hardship. She had taken chill, and she had nightmares in which she revisited a one-eye man, a horse, and a stranger in a clearing in the woods".

My emotions were soooo invested as this story keeps changing and spinning off in surprising directions.
Vasya 'does' wanders back into the woods as a teenager. Around this same time evil is entering the village. Through Pyotr's marriage and a Priest....( both people to be suspicious of), demons are becoming fierce. -- but this is a fairytale ... and Vasya is the GOOD SPIRIT!!!!

This book feels like an instant classic -- An enchanting mystical exotic world!!!!

Thank You Random House Publishing Company, Random House, and Katherine Arden



Profile Image for ❄️BooksofRadiance❄️.
600 reviews714 followers
December 15, 2018
Set in a Fantasy-esque Medieval Russia with Russian folklore, this was supposed to be my jam. It should have been.
It started out well and somewhere down the line, in the last third part of the book particularly, I... simply lost interest.
Oh, well.
Profile Image for Hannah.
585 reviews1,042 followers
February 10, 2017
Do you know that fuzzy feeling when you find a book with a world so immersive that you don't want it to ever end? This was a book like that for me. I absolutely adored it - and I am not quite sure if this review will at all be coherent, but I'll try my best.

This was a book that I was super super excited to get to read early. I love books set in Russia, especially the North of Russia; I love Fairy Tales; I love the books the blurb compared it to. I only wanted to read the first chapter because I have loads of unfinished books already but I was immediately drawn in and did not feel like reading anything else. I absolutely devoured it and when I came up again I was a bit sad that the book wasn't longer (especially because the last 3% were the glossary so the book ended a good 15 pages before I thought it would!). That so rarely happens with me!

The book tells the story of Vasya, a child whose mother was a bit other-worldly and who died giving birth to her. Vasya is different herself, being able to converse with household-spirits that nobody else can see. In true fairy tale fashion, her father remarries and the stepmother is, well not exactly evil, but one of the main antagonistic forces of this story. In a world where the new Christian beliefs are at odds with the older, heathen beliefs, this conflict comes to a head when a new priest is appointed to their little village and sets into motion a series of events that will have the heroine come face to face with arcane powers.

Set in the North of Russia with its seemingly ever-lasting winter, the author creates an atmosphere so believable, and enchanting, and surreal, and creepy, and beautiful, I could picture it every step of the way. Her characters are equally believable and even though they all fit the tropes of the genre, Katherine Arden adds little twists that make this story incredibly original and readable. One of my favourite of her decisions was the complete lack of romantic interest the heroine shows. She just wants to decide her life for herself; a difficult thing to do in a time when the two options open for her are a) marriage or b) joining a convent.

Overall, in case anyone missed it, I absolutely adored this book and its main character. I love the little nods to fairy tales I grew up with and I love the focus on making your own choices rather than just doing what is expected and/ or easy. The only slight negative I can find is that I found the ending to be rushed; but then again I just didn't want the book to end, ever.

___
I received this book curtesy of NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
Profile Image for Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~.
347 reviews913 followers
February 10, 2020
"Am I a child? Always someone else must decide for me. But this I will decide for myself."

Reread Thoughts: Yes, I am a fool. A hack. Witless. Brainless for the words I wrote two years ago. But I did enjoy this even more the second time around! On to the next!

Also, for the record, I’m surprised to see this series shelved as “Young Adult” because it doesn’t really read that way at all.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully atmospheric story with a definite origin in the Slavic folktales. From the very beginning, we can feel how the story takes root in the classic fairy tale formula.

Independent protagonist? Check. Concerned Father/siblings? Check. Evil stepmother? Check. Affinity for nature? Check. Magical forest? Check.

However, none of these character designs came across as overused or cliche. Instead, it created that warm sense of nostalgia that we all feel whenever we hear our favorite childhood stories. I felt as though I already had a level of intimacy with the characters before meeting them because I have met them before in their previous incarnations.

They are comfortable & familiar, but they are individual enough to stand on their own.

A similar familiarity exists within the plot structure. Prophecies & bewtiched artifacts & the promise of destruction without the intervention of the protagonist. This in combination with the Russian influence really made for a charming read.

I've seen many comparisons between this novel & Uprooted by Naomi Novik, but honestly this is the story I wanted Uprooted to be. Yes there are similarities, but where Uprooted was convoluted & full of weak characters & confusing motives, The Bear and the Nightingale is a written with clarity of purpose & its characters are enchanting & dimensional.

Arden's writing style is full of luxurious detail. From the chilly glow of a snow covered forest to the aroma of baking sweet cakes, the author's attention to detail & effortless way with words is reminiscent of Laini Taylor.

Where this book fell short for me is in its reread value; I don't see myself ever wanting to reread this in the future. That isn't always a bad thing, as there are many wonderful books I'm sure I'll never reread. However, I had the distinct thought "I can't see myself wanting to experience this story a second time," despite the positive feelings of nostalgia it brought me.

It's a great story with a lot to appreciate, especially for fans of Fantasy & Folklore. Those who enjoyed the atmosphere of Novik's Uprooted but wanted more from the story, or fancied the setting of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy I think will find a this read on their favorites list.

♡ Buddy read with Rachelle & Kaylin! ♡
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