The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight, #1) by Katherine Arden

  • Title: The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight, #1)
  • Novelist: Katherine Arden
  • Publisher: Del Rey book
  • Category: Fantasy

The Bear and the Nightingale opens a door on the medieval Russian folklore. In a little village, Dunya tells her country’s legends by the fireside. These stories nourishes little Vasilisa who will have to arm herself to protect the ones she loves while staying herself.   

The novel has two parts. The first part unveils the context of the storyline: Vasya’s family, her father’s remarriage, the horrible relationship with her mother-in-law (as Cinderella) and the milieu where she is growing. That is a big introduction setting the universe and the pawns on the chessboard. We plunge into the 15th Century in Russia where Christianity stands alongside paganism that is still alive thanks to stories by the fireside and Vasya’s eyes who takes care of household spirits. The second part of the book presents the breaking of the balance. The newcomer priest and the mother-in-law, who is terrified by fantastic creatures, diverted peasants from daily behaviors that allowed the invisible ones to protect their homes. The shield fell at the worst moment: the awakening of the Bear is bringing a terrible winter.

This book is as a fairytale in which magic lives in the Russian snowy forest. The story isn’t original. It’s about the birth of a witch who protects the old traditions and who has a behavior opposite to what a girl should do. However, I like it because of the folklore and the authenticity of the tsar’s kingdom. Especially the Russian words that are explained in a glossary. I rarely read books related to Russia and its history. The author’s skill who makes alive this era, its environment, it’s beliefs and it’s atmosphere, convinced me. As her style that is poetic and full of imagery.

The character of Vasilisa is eye-catching and puzzling. She is the kind of little innocent girl who is able to tell you truths frankly and without animosity. It is making people wary. Above all the priest who doesn’t like her. When she is talking with the spirits, her sentences are naive sometime. It gives a certain style. She disturbs people because of her intelligent observations and her tomboy nature. She prefers running in the wood, riding a horse and keeping her freedom than sewing and cooking all day.

In short, The Bear and The Nightingale is a wonderful dive in snowy Russian lands where the folklore is still alive thanks to a child who is shaking the conventions up to stay free and to be herself.

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