Christina - Traveling Sister's Reviews > The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
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it was amazing

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!
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Reading Progress

April 8, 2018 – Shelved
April 8, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
January 20, 2019 – Started Reading
January 22, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Vivianne (new)

Vivianne I've heard great things about this! I'm excited to read it sometime


Christina - Traveling Sister Vivianne wrote: "I've heard great things about this! I'm excited to read it sometime"

I loved it! Looking forward to seeing your thoughts :)


Tania Beautiful review for one of my favorite books.


Christina - Traveling Sister Tania wrote: "Beautiful review for one of my favorite books."

It was so lovely - thank you! I've got the next one from the library I'm reading right now! :)


Angela M Christina, while I didn’t like this as much as you did, I loved your review.


Christina - Traveling Sister Angela M wrote: "Christina, while I didn’t like this as much as you did, I loved your review."

You know, for as much as I loved this book I could also see why it may not appeal to everyone as I was reading it! Thank you :)


DeAnn Stunning review Christina. You've inspired me to pick this series back up!


Christina - Traveling Sister DeAnn wrote: "Stunning review Christina. You've inspired me to pick this series back up!"

Gracias DeAnn! I've really adored it so far - it's absolutely lovely!!


message 9: by Sabrina (new) - added it

Sabrina Kirby This has been on my "to read" list for so long! Sounds wonderful! So glad you loved it. =)


Christina - Traveling Sister Sabrina wrote: "This has been on my "to read" list for so long! Sounds wonderful! So glad you loved it. =)"

It sad on my "to read" forever too! I adored it - I wish I would've read it sooner lol! But now all the books are out, so I'm also selfishly happy I waited ;)


Libby Beautiful review Christina! I loved this one too.


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