Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
So there was a lot of hype around this book in 2017. I was a bit late to read this as it is now 2019 lol. Better late than never I guess. I found this book a bit slow at times but all in all I really liked the story. This book is a trilogy called the Winternight trilogy. It incorporates mythical folk tales into reality. The tale follows Vasya a wild child who’s stepmother and local priest want to rid their town of her ‘devilish’ ways all the while the winter King a frost demon has his eyes on her. It has a lot of terms I did not understand. Arden was smart and added a glossary of terms to help the reader discover the magical Russian folklore background.
The story opens with Vasya’s nanny Dunya telling the tale of the winter king who brings death. The tale is told to children to scare them into behaving….. Or is it. Maria, Vasy’s mother was the daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Pyotr Vasya’s father is a lord on the outskirts of the forest a long way from Moscow. Maria died in childbirth leaving Vasya motherless and free to roam wherever as she grows up.
Vasya spends all of her time in the forest talking to the folklore forest nymphs and fairies. These creatures are said to protect the houses of the people who worships them and leave food out for them. The Domovoi is the oven creature who helps protect the house. She comes across a weird tree one day and meets the elicude Frost King who saves her life.
Her father who is worried that she is growing up wild decides it is time to remarry. He travels to Moscow to find a wife who ends up being the Grand Prince’s daughter. Anna also see these mythical creatures just like Vasya can. They set out on the long track home. Sasha, Vasya’s brother meets a priest in the city and asks to stay but Pyotr says no.
Once back in their village Anna does not fit into the hard labours life. The only time she feels safe from seeing the ‘demons’ is in the church. The sightings have gotten worse since coming to the forest so Anna becomes estranged from the villagers and her new family. She seeks solace with the new priest Konstantin that has come to look over the village. The priest sees Vasya as unclean or evil as she spends so much time in the woods. He thinks he hears ‘God’ talking to him one night. This voice tells him that the villagers have lost their way and he needs to instill fear and doubt. The voice says their worship of the chyerti is wrong and to discipline this villagers in the way of God. Spoiler alert here the voice is really the brother of the Frost King. He is an evil one eyed bear that wants to take over the earth in darkness.
Here the book picks up and the story unravels faster. I found the first part of the book a bit slower but necessary to set up the last part. Pyotr tried to wed Vasya to Kyril – a very brute and ‘manly’ villager. He is cruel to his horses. Vasya knows this because she can read the horses as she was taught by one of the cheryti. He finds Vasya’s behaviours hard to deal with and calls off the wedding. As the reader I would have hated to see Arden marry Vasya off and chain her up in a house.
So the 3rd part of the book is the battle between Vasya and the Bear devil. We see that the people of the village grow to hate and blame Vasya for all the people dying. Really it is their lack of believe and offerings to the Cheryti that allow the Devil to come into their homes. Finally the frost king saves Vasya from the Bear and brings her to his frost home. An aside- why are there a lot of frost kings and beings in fantasy novels. We see the frost ‘white walkers’ in the Game of Thrones books.
In the end Vasya fights the bear Devil, known as Medved. We other cheryti originally follow Medved but Vasya was able to persuade them to follow her as she has been nice to them. Konstantin brings Anna to the forest as bait because Medved needs a ‘seer’ to be killed to free him. In the end Vasya’s father dies offering his life to save his daughter. At the end she leaves the village, be able to drive Konstantin off first. The villagers still think she is a witch and Vasya does not want to make trouble for her brother who is now taking over the village. The last scene was very interesting as she goes back to the frost Kings home and he lets her in.
All in all I really enjoyed this book. I have never read anything like it so it was nice to read out of my comfort zone. What did you think of this book? Like or dislike? Feel free to leave a comment below> I would love to hear your thoughts.
Happy Reading Everyone!!