Updated: Aug 18, 2018
Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #1
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.
What I Liked
The Russian folklore element, the introduction of creatures that a lot of people don't know about. Her depiction of the domovoi, rusalka, etc, are different than the spin I chose to put on them in my own story, but I loved them sooooo much! Especially her rusalka. And Vasilisa's growth throughout the book was excellent. Supporting characters were so real and rich, and the setting is so well-described it will make you need to put on a sweater.
What I Would Have Liked to See
It took me a minute to get into the story because it doesn't start off in Vasilisa's POV (she's not even born at that point). The style is very fairy-tale-ish, distant third person, sometimes even slipping into omniscient. As a personal preference, it's not a style I like, but the overall story was so lovely I didn't even pay attention to the style half the time.
The careful, gradual way the story builds up. We get to see Vasilisa's whole life up to the point where she battles the Bear, and so many little things add to the stack of her experiences.
Dark Russian fairy tale book with incredible characters and a sprawling setting, good for an introduction to some of the more common Russia folkloric beings out there.