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.
I picked up this ARC at New York Comic Con in October at a signing at the Del Rey Booth.
(Beware: SPOILERS below)
I really enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale. First off, I loved that Vasya was a strong female protagonist. She rode horses, she wandered in the forest making friends with the spirits, and she spoke her mind. I especially loved that Vasya chose to be free at the end to travel anywhere she pleased. I didn’t think there was going to be a sequel, but would like to see her new adventures.
There was a great development of the relationship between the characters, especially between Vasya, her siblings, and Dunya. I found myself emotionally attached to the good ones and wanting to smack the antagonists. I became so frustrated with the antagonists.
The atmosphere of the setting makes it a great book to read in the winter, all cozy under the blankets and with a warm beverage.
I am in no way familiar with Russian fairytales, but I get the sense that Katherine really did her research. I loved this retelling.
I was actually reminded of Harry Potter at the end when Pyotr sacrifices himself, and Love being the strongest magic of all.
A small critique I have is that I feel the magic surrounding the necklace was a bit unfinished. To be fair I don’t know how the ARC I read compares with the final published version, but there was strong lead up to it’s significance and then… Did it make her stronger to wield magic or did it protect her from the Bear?
I also felt that way about the frost-demon, Morozko. I would like to know more about him. I guess what I am saying is I hope there is more magic, and more of Morozko, in the next story.
Those issues are minor and I found The Bear and the Nightingale to be a wonderful novel from a promising new author.
4 out 5 witchy women.
A few of my favorite quotes. I hope they didn’t change in the final publication:
Page 108: “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.”
Page 167: “It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.”
Page 187: “I’d rather my sons living, and my daughters safe, than a chance at glory for unborn descendants.”