A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.
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 a joy it was. I chose this book for our girly book club (as I was given the second one by NetGalley to review). I read it in a few days. I could not put it down.
Even though this book is written on a sensitive (for me) topic of Russian history and culture, The Bear and the Nightingale is amazing. It is as scary as it is magical.
It is a fairy tale put together from bits and pieces of several Russian legends and fairy tales. It is pagan and religious. It is royal and peasantry. It is about woman’s place in the society and the lack of it.
To be free you have to die. To be free you have to be an outcast. To make your own choices you have to be branded a witch. Does it soud familiar? I think so.
The main heroine, Vasilisa, does manage to make her own choice, at a great cost though. She is much stronger than her family and her times. What will happen to the green-eyed girl? What will happen to her magic?
Or was it magic at all?
All in all, an amazing book. I’d love to read other installments. In all honesty, I did not pay much heed to all the inaccuracies (Author admits to them in her Acknowledgements).
Thank you for bringing this magical and multi-layered story to life