Monday, January 23, 2017

the bear and the nightingale: stardust arc reviews

The Bear and the Nightingale

Katherine Arden



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.

full review under the cut! 

I firstly want to thank Del Ray and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book! Also... I like the original cover a lot, but I just think this one is so absolutely gorgeous that I had to include it here :)

The Bear and the Nightingale is the perfect book for curling up on a cold winter night. The first word that comes to mind for me is atmospheric, because Katherine Arden manages to flawlessly plunge us directly into the dark, cold setting of Northern Russia. I felt so intensely like I was like, like if I were to look out the window, I would see snow piled up in front of the panes. To me, this suggests an incredible amount of not only research, but also careful attention to every single detail. Every small thing in this book was perfectly in line with the setting, there was nothing that jarred me out of the world. I think this is an enormous feat, because creating such an immersive setting cannot be easy! Further than that, I really thought the setting added a lot to the story. The landscape is sort of desolate, covered in winter for most of the year, but when we see it through the eyes of most of the characters, we see it as something wild, untamed, and beautiful, full of magic. Super amazing, if you ask me. 

I truly adored most of the characters in this book. Of course, our main character, Vasya (or Vasilisa) is precocious, spirited, and independent, and I loved reading from her POV. She is the poster child for doing things before thinking them through, which often leads her to grand adventures which culminate in her getting in trouble. She is a very active protagonist, which I think is useful against a setting that this as unchanging and stolid as the Russian wilderness. I also loved her siblings, and really appreciated reading about their family dynamics. I especially loved Sasha, and I am really excited because Katherine Arden said that book two is going to have lots to do with him! I also loved Olga, who is very different from her sister Vasya, but every bit as amazing in her own way. 

The basic plot of this story is this: Vasya was born on a cold night to a mother who comes from a line of people with extraordinary gifts. Her mother dies in childbirth, but Vasya inherits the gifts that come from her mother's line. She can see and hear things that other people cannot, specifically relating to the pagan spirits and gods that linger around and protect her family's home. This is part of the reason why she is so high spirited, and I loved this aspect of the story. It added another layer to the historical fiction. Vasya grows up with her older siblings, her father, and her nurse, Dunya, guiding her. When it becomes clear that she is getting older and wilder, with barely any maternal guidance, her father goes to Moscow in search of a new wife. The person that he brings back is the cold, frightened Anna, who shares the gift that Vasya possesses. However, instead of seeing the spirits as protectors or guardians like Vasya does, Anna sees them as devils, and therefore begins a systematic process of wiping them out, which brings unexpected consequences to the household and the surrounding village. It then falls to Vasya, along with the frost god Morozko, to go on a personal and literal journey to bring balance and peace back to her world. 

This book is steeped in magic, and there are fantastic things and creatures at every turn. I loved the moment in history that Arden chose to describe. These people have always been fully committed to their pagan gods and practices, but Christianity is relatively new in this part of the world, and they are suspended between the two faiths. This is literally played out in the difference between Anna and Vasya's gifts, which Arden made more real by making the pagan spirits literal beings that can change the course of people's lives. This book is just so rich in the culture it takes place in, in both of the faiths, in the depth of the characters, and the immersiveness of the setting. In the end, I thought the beginning dragged a little bit for me, which is the reason this is 3.5 and not 4 stars! I truly would recommend this to someone looking for a different and highly inventive adventure to cozy up with on a winter night. 


1 comment:

  1. Great review! I suck at writing review but I love to read, so I'm working on that! :)


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