Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Del Rey for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: historical fantasy.
‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
It’s been three weeks since my last post and I kind of wanted to do the whole Adele routine by giving you all sorts of reasons for my absence, but I’ll do that in the February recap post. Today, I just want to talk to you about The Bear and the Nightingale.
The Bear and the Nightingale is Arden’s debut and it’s a rich, powerful story. It’s heavily based on Russian folklore and I liked it a lot. To be honest, the only two things that bothered me were the relatively slow beginning (it takes the story a while to get going, but once it does, it really pulls you in) and the fact that it is not a standalone, which is what I thought it was when I started reading it.
Now, I’ve been known to start series left and right and I have about 40 going right at this moment (it’s a problem, I’m working on it), but Goodreads didn’t list it as a series when I started it and it wasn’t until after I’d finished it and was completely satisfied with the ending that I learned Arden was writing books 2 and 3. And while I loved the setting and would love to read more stories in that same world, I’m not sure how Vasya’s story will continue. Anyway, I’ll let the author surprise me.
But let’s talk about the good stuff instead. As I said, the worldbuilding was great. I’m always up for a fantasy story with a non-Western setting and Russian folklore is somewhat familiar to me (not in the sense that Slovenian folklore is similar but I’ve read a lot of Russian folk and fairy tales and I loved them), so I had a fun time recognizing the creatures and features of the world.
Arden’s writing is also rich and powerful, she paints the scenery with great attention to detail but I didn’t feel it bogged down the narrative, which was great. She’s a master at writing atmosphere, I think The Bear and the Nightingale should really be read in wintertime. It’s the perfect book for when it’s cold outside and you’re somewhere warm.
I liked Vasya, the girl protagonist, a lot. She’s a wild child with one foot firmly in the fairy world, misunderstood by her relatives and restricted by tradition. While she’s a young child, this wild streak is tolerable, but as she becomes a young woman, the society starts boxing her in. Her character development was great and it’s one of the reasons I’ll be continuing with the series – I’m curious to know more about the adult Vasya. I’m hoping she’ll be more proactive about her fate – it was hard for her to do anything drastic while she was a very young child but I sometimes felt she was a pawn on the chessboard of other, bigger forces, pushed around as they saw fit.
But Arden really writes great villains. Her antagonists (and yes, there’s more than one) are well-rounded personalities with motives that are never purely black, so it’s hard to hate them, even when they are absolutely loathsome. I’m not going to go into details and names here because it’s sort of spoilery, but let’s say I enjoyed them very much.
All in all, The Bear and the Nightingale was a very good historical fantasy, so if that’s your cup of tea, go for it. I’m hoping the sequel(s) will do it justice and I’m looking forward to exploring the world some more.
Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? What did you think?
What’s your favourite historical fantasy?
I’d love to hear from you! :)