Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey
Source: E-arc via NetGalley from Del Rey

Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.

Ronnie’s Review

I rarely pick up a new to me author solely by reading just the blurb, but such was the case with Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. I was intrigued and thought the combination of Russian folklore with fantasy made for an excellent read and I was kind of right. LOL Does that sound half-ass? Well, the book gets off to an extremely *SLOW* start. You’re introduced to Vasilia and her family.. and the book spends a fair amount of time on the family dynamics between her and various members of the family. There are reasons for this, but it made for a slow start and I found my attention wandering a bit here & there.

The prose is detailed and intricate,  but it often felt like it was devoting more time to the background noise of setting up the scene than it dealt with dialogue and moving the plot forward.

Pyotr Vladimirovich tries to do his best by his family, but one son ends up turning to religion as his life as a monk, and he ends up carrying a talisman for Vasilia that involves favor from an old God. Religion plays a big part in this book, and that’s the part I have the hardest time parsing out. I’m not religious in any sense of the word and I’m not someone of faith, and this book will use faith as both a blessing and a curse. Konstantin (a priest) uses people’s faith and goodwill to subjugate them to his beliefs and someone who will come to be known as The Bear.

If anything, the book makes a point about how women’s lives are not their own. To be sold off to marriage to whomever will make the best match or who is the most desperate. While Anna doesn’t come off in the best light (the stepmother), she never was given a choice about what she wanted, and was cosigned to an unhappy life when she would have been happier alone and in a convent.

You’re more than halfway into the book before certain things happen with Vasya’s destiny and the winter demon, Morozko. The story *slowly* comes together to form a picture that had me turning page after page, when before I was struggling to continue. There is no romance, although a kinship exists between Vasya and Morozko. And the last 15% of the book is like a mad rush of action, so between the beginning and the end, the pacing ranges from sluggish to fast paced, and with what happens, you’re left in an odd place. But there’s supposed to be more books, so I guess that explains that.

I struggled with the pacing and themes, but I did enjoy it overall for the most part.

Rating: 3.5 Stars = B-

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