The Bear and The Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Blurb (as on 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.
“There was a time, not long ago When flowers grew all year When days were long And nights star-strewn And men lived free from fear”
Russian folklore says that every household has its own set of creatures/ ghosts who protect the house and it’s people from the evil in the woods. In return, the people of the house should allow them to stay at their places and offer food because food brings strength.
Vasilisa Petrovna of Lesnaya Zemlya can see these ghosts and has befriended almost each one of them. But times are about to turn bad and Vasilisa needs to keep these ghosts alive so that they can fight this mysterious force in the woods, who is getting stronger with each passing day.
The plot takes us to the countryside of Russia and gives us a glimpse of life there. A place where mortals and ghosts co-exist. The woods are enchanted and full of magic and only certain people can see through the magic. The cold is excruciating, and it only gets worse when the dark forces rise.
The writing style is magical. It feeds us with bits and pieces of information, and the mystery is revealed only at the end. The story also focusses on the physical, emotional and mental challenges that Vasilisa—Vasya—- goes through, while growing up. From the innocence of a child to the gait of a grown woman, the impression is clear and strong.
The horror part of the plot gave me gooseflesh. It is mystical and scary at the same time. There is dark magic, shadows, and evil creatures and the environment that the author associates with each of these creatures are distinct and highly imaginable.
It’s thrilling and the twists and turns are a total surprise most of the times.
“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”
The action happens only at the end of the plot but there’s drama throughout. The author has tried and succeeded in conveying the Russian folklore and its intimate and strong association with the common folks.
- An independent, determined and a little-witchy protagonist
- Demons and Ghosts
- Creepy and scary atmosphere
- Russian Folklore
“I gave everything for you, Vasilisa Petrovna.’
‘Not everything,’ said Vasya. ‘Since clearly your pride is intact, as well as your illusions.”
All in all, this turned out to be a different kind of read, especially because of a glimpse of the Russian countryside and its associated stories, which is not usually seen in most fantasy books.
Enthralling, magical and unearthly, The Bear and The Nightingale takes you into the magical world of Vasilisa Petrovna, a world where magic and miracles are subjective.
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