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The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel Hardcover – January 10, 2017
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: There's a small but mighty space where fantasy and literary fiction can clasp hands and create a brilliant story that resonates in the soul. The Bear and the Nightingale lives squarely in that space, and those who dare to visit this novel will leave entranced. Set in the fourteenth century in the bitter north, a two-week ride from the rough city of Moscow, this mesmerizing tale centers on Vasya Petronova, a girl who barely survives birth (her mother doesn't) and grows up with a secret affinity for the sprites and demons that live in and around her village. "A wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission" is how her father imagines her, and he's not wrong. As her family tries to harness her into the typical domestic life of a young noblewoman, Vasya spends more and more time among the sprites and soon gets caught between two old and powerful gods struggling for domination over her part of the world. Arden's debut novel builds like a thunderstorm, with far-off disquieting rumblings that escalate into a clash between sprites and humans, ancient religions and new, honor and ambition. If you haven't picked up a Russian-style novel lately, it can take a few chapters to recall that each character has a handful of nicknames you have to keep track of and that various storylines may take their time in weaving back into the main plot, but it's well worth the effort. And while I think there are only a dozen or so novels in this world that have a perfect ending, I would put The Bear and the Nightingale high on that list. --Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
“Vasya [is] a clever, stalwart girl determined to forge her own path in a time when women had few choices.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Stunning . . . will enchant readers from the first page. . . . with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Utterly bewitching . . . a lush narrative . . . an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Arden’s supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Radiant . . . a darkly magical fairy tale for adults, [but] not just for those who love magic.”—Library Journal
“An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale . . . A Russian setting adds unfamiliar spice to the story of a young woman who does not rebel against the limits of her role in her culture so much as transcend them. The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic.”—Robin Hobb
“A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up.”—Naomi Novik
“Haunting and lyrical, The Bear and the Nightingale tugs at the heart and quickens the pulse. I can’t wait for Katherine Arden's next book.”—Terry Brooks
“The Bear and the Nightingale is a marvelous trip into an ancient Russia where magic is a part of everyday life.”—Todd McCaffrey
“Enthralling and enchanting—I couldn’t put it down. This is a wondrous book!”—Tamora Pierce
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Top customer reviews
Debut novelist Katherine Arden has created an enchanted landscape of characters and creatures fighting a terrifying battle to save their woods and people. Arden’s beautifully crafted prose contains a bit of Dracula, a dash of Lewis’ The Monk, some folklore and a touch of Wuthering Heights. It is all of these things, and yet is uniquely Arden’s own brilliant creation at the same time. This is likely the IT book in fantasy for 2017 and is highly addicting reading. The Bear and the Nightingale is one of those perfectly crafted stories that jumps genres and will appeal to large audience outside fantasy as well as in it. (I personally rarely read fantasy, but this one kept me up all night reading.) Beautifully written and possessing a fairytalesque quality, this book is destined to be an instant hit.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Let me start of with the things the book does well. The Bear and the Nightingale is a captivating and original fairytale crafted by the very talented Katherine Arden. One would never guess upon reading this novel, that it's her first. She has quite a way with words, as her prose is immensely poetic and vivid, almost cinematic in the way it paints a picture of the harsh Russian countryside. This novel exuded originality--a rare thing in the fantasy genre--and was unpredictable enough that for most of the novel I had no idea what was going to happen next. I have never read anything quite like it, and for that it gets major points from me. Another thing that stuck out to me was just how real her characters felt--both important players like the priest Konstantin Nikonovich, to minor characters like Sasha, are fleshed out and three-dimensional with their own dreams, fears, personalities, and desires. For the writers out there, it might be worth reading this book just to study how well Arden accomplishes this. Konstantin is easily one of the most complex and interesting characters I've ever come across in a fantasy novel.
Now for the things this novel doesn't do so well. Unfortunately, I felt that the character that received some of the least character development was the protagonist herself. While we do see Vasya mature and grow throughout the novel, from a wild, selfish child into a woman willing to give her life for her family, I felt like we didn't really get a good glimpse at her internal motivations like we do with the other characters. By the end I felt like she was the typical independent young heroine that you find in just about every fantasy novel. I was especially confused as to why she was so intent on saving everyone when her family mistreats her and the villagers hate her and constantly accuse her of being a witch. The author uses alternating viewpoints throughout the story, with some chapters shown from Pyotr (Vasya's father), Anna (the stepmother), Dunya (the nursemaid), and Konstantin's point of view. Without this convention we wouldn't be able to have all the details we need to understand the story, but on the other hand, it makes certain characters seem more important than the are (in particular I think Anna takes up way too much space). This leads me to my next point: this story has a lot of loose ends. A lot. It wastes what could have been immensely interesting plot threads. Vasya is given a special necklace about halfway through the novel that is seemingly enchanted, yet its importance and/or purpose are never explained. Vasya's older brother, Sasha, leaves to be a warrior-monk and guardian of the prince, yet his storyline is never followed up on (I would love to read a novel just focusing on Sasha and his adventures). There a quasi, not-quite romance that begins to develop between Konstantin and Vasya in the first half of the novel, that then all of a sudden kind of drops off. Pyotr goes to aid the survivors of a mysteriously burned down village, but we are never told what he found there or why it took him so long to return. Arden also never quite gives us enough backstory or context as to why the things that are happening are happening.[SPOILER ALERT] Who was Vasya's grandmother? What did her powers entail? Why wasMedved so interesting in her descendant, Vasya, anyway? Why did some of the creatures warn Vasya not to trust Morozko? Who is Solovey the horse, is he an actual horse or some sort of shapeshifting spirit? How were the household spirits able to leave their hearths to help Vasya in the climax? Did Vasya fall for Morozko by the end? [SPOILER ALERT END] Lastly, the ending felt very rush. This book was a slow burn, slowly knitting a careful tapestry of foreshadowing and dread that left you hanging on the edge of your seat, wondering how it was going to all play out. Unfortunately, the big climax of the novel was sudden and unoriginal--your stereotypical big battle against the monster in the woods--and left me severely disappointed. The way the bad guy was defeated was also very cliche, and made very little sense. I honestly felt like the climax and ending of the novel should have been at least twice as long and better developed.
Again that said, it is still a great read with a (mostly) original plot and interesting characters. I can only hope Arden will consider writing some sort of follow-up to this novel to tie up all her many loose ends.
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One of the best reads throughout!
I don't normally talk about a cover, but let's face it ... this cover art is beautiful.Read more