The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
A Recommended Book of the Month
So many fantasy books these days follow the same formulaic themes, plot, and character tropes that it is easy to get cynical when a new book comes along claiming to be something totally different and fresh. I simply cannot count the number of times I have cracked open a book advertised as “not your typical fantasy” and then after 100 pages been disappointed yet again because typical is exactly what it was. So it was with more than a little dose of skepticism that I picked up an ARC of Katherine Arden’s debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale. I will say that I was encouraged to see that both Terry Brooks and Naomi Novik gave the book glowing praise, so with that in my back pocket, I dove into the story.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fairy tale, which in and of itself is somewhat rare in a genre lately dominated by epic high fantasy, military fantasy, and gritty grimdark. The story takes place in a medieval Russian village at the edge of a cold, snowy, and unforgiving wilderness. Pyotr Vladimirovich lives in this isolated village with his five children. His last-born daughter Vasya; however, is very different from her other siblings. Even before her birth, Pyotr’s first wife Marina knew that there was a specific role destined for Vasya and that even though it might end with her own death, she must go through with the pregnancy to bring her baby into the world. Marina does in fact pass away not too long after delivering Vasya but before dying, she forces her husband to promise that he will always look after precious Vasya and keep her safe. There is definitely a sense during this conversation that Marina is certain that Vasya will be special and needed for some unknown reason. Some months after his wife’s death, Pyotr travels on a long journey to Moscow with the goal of finding a new wife to help him raise his children. While there, a mysterious blue-eyed stranger approaches and hands him a necklace with a beautiful gem and implores him to give the priceless jewel to his newborn daughter as a gift. The stranger also insists that Pyotr make a promise to him that Vasya will keep it with her at all times and never part with it for any reason. Pyotr, not wishing to offend the man, accepts the gift and presents it to his daughter when he returns home some months later. He also returns with a new wife who sees demons everywhere she looks. Are they real or are they the delusions of a woman with mental illness? Even more peculiar is that ever since Vasya received the strange necklace, she has begun seeing mythical creatures of her own and can also speak with them. First there’s the gnome-like creature living in her father’s horse stables, then there’s the frog-like fairy creature who makes its home at the bottom of the bog not too far from their cabin. As Vasya becomes more adept at conversing with these mythical creatures, we begin to wonder for what purpose is this happening? Is there an evil lurking inside the wooded village that must be fought at all costs? Are the demons that her new stepmother is seeing in every corner of their cabin truly demons? And what part does Vasya and her new mythical friends have to play in keeping the evil contained and potentially vanquishing it altogether?
When I finished the last page of The Bear and the Nightingale, I was exhausted. Not in a bad way, but it really is an emotionally draining novel. So much of the story is very personal and Ms. Arden does an excellent job of making you emotionally invested in the characters. I really genuinely liked Vasya and I routed for her throughout the story. I felt sad for Pyotr and wanted to see him conquer the sadness of losing his wife and become the father he wished to be for his children. I felt angry when Pyotr’s new wife fell completely under the spell of the overly-devout priest who came to stay with their family. All of these emotions were elicited because a talented author brought them out of me. If I didn’t care about any of the characters, none of it would have mattered. But it did! Therein lies the brilliance of this novel, because yes, it is a fairy tale and a great story. But what makes it even better is the way the characters become attached to you and you can’t shake them. You think about them on your drive to work. You agonize over their plight while lying in bed before you fall asleep. It is truly a testament to Ms. Arden’s skill in her craft that she can create such a wonderful reading experience. In the end, I have to say that The Bear and the Nightingale deserves all of the praise it has gotten up to this point. If you are looking for a phenomenal fairy tale fantasy read, you can’t go wrong with this book. The history and mythology that is also intermingled into the story gives it an added dimension that will please readers who enjoy those elements in their stories. Highly recommended.
This The Bear and the Nightingale book review was written by Nick Taraborrelli
Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
The Bear and the Nightingale reader reviews
9.5/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, a...
Guy Gavriel Kay
For two years Shen Tai has mourned his father, living like a hermit beyond the borders of the Kitan Empire, by a mountain lake where terrible battles have long been fought ...
The Master and Margarita
Moscow, 1929: a city that has lost its way amid corruption and fear, inhabited by people who have abandoned their morals and forsaken spirituality. But when a mysterious st...
Catherynne M Valente
Child of the revolution, maiden of myth, bride of darkness. A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, an...
Only five still guard the borders between the worlds. Only five hold back what waits on the other side. Once the Oversight, the secret society that polices the lines betwee...
The Gamehouse is an unusual institution. Many know it as the place where fortunes can be made and lost through games of Chess, Backgammon - every game under the sun. But a ...
Nights at the Circus
Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe's capitals, part swan... or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordin...
In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of thi...
The War at Troy
The people who lived in those days were closer to gods than we are, and great deeds and marvels were commoner then, which is why the stories we have from them are nobler an...
The Golem and the Djinni
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, di...
Land of Hope and Glory
It is 1852. The Indian empire of Rajthana has ruled Europe for more than a hundred years. With their vast armies, steam-and-sorcery technology and mastery of the mysterious...
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude
"First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed- up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departur...
Those Poor, Poor Bastards
The year is 1868... In the Sierra Nevada, during the expansion of the Central Pacific Railroad, Nina Weaver and her pa, Lincoln, trundle into Coburn Station with a wagonful...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
- Recommended historical fantasy / alternate history books/series
- Recommended books/series featuring lore, legend and mythology
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasures are in his possession. And together with Calidus and his ally Queen Rhin, Nathair will do anything to obtain the remaining Treasures. With all seven under his command, he ...
For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the four...
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures...
The Creeping Shadow
Lucy has left Lockwood & Co. A freelance operative, she is hiring herself out to other agencies – agencies that might value her ever-improving skills. But now Loc...
The Burning Page
When it's your job to save the day - where do you start? Librarian spy Irene has standards to maintain, especially while on probation. And absconding from a mission via...
The Banished Lands are torn by war as the army of High King Nathair sweeps the realm challenging all who oppose his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of...