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The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel Hardcover – January 10, 2017
The Amazon Book Review
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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
Advance praise for The Bear and the Nightingale
“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.
I'll start off by saying that I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. It reminded me so much of some of the books I read when I was younger, of the Night Circus and Shannon Hale books and books that are original but also based on fairytales or folklore. The writing is fantastic, the storytelling lilting and magical.
The story shifts focus between our protagonist, Vasilisa, better known as Vasya, and another character, Konstantin, the priest that comes to stay in their town. Vasya is not the kind of female heroine one really expects from a story like this - she's not outwardly brave, she's quiet, she often takes the brunt of insults or hurtful words from those around her. However, in the magical world where the cold and forest has it's own kind of magic that those people fear, it is Vasya's kindness that helps her to befriend magical creatures and in the end, help to save those she loves from the more dangerous things in the forest.
While Konstantin is not truly a main character, he is in opposition to Vasya's character. They both attempt to help protect her family but in two very different ways. I loved how their approach differed and how despite the intentions, Vasya's open-mindedness and kindness tends to be more successful that Konstantin's devout yet often times ignorant ideology.
The world is magical and dark and dangerous. It's also bright and romantic. It's one kind of fairytale, one with gods and spirits and the walking dead, within another kind of fairytale, one with Russian aristocracy, a wicked stepmother, and the tensions between Russian lore and religious ideology. It is filled with action, danger, family drama, and a little bit of romance. Cinderella meets Anastasia meets Anna Karena. The story has everything to be successful but I truly think the writing and storytelling is what really makes the Bear and the Nightingale unique and truly shine. You'll be shivering with the cold, be in awe of the Russian court, be scared to look out your window when it's dark. It is so reminiscent of some classic fairytale, told with such elegance, beautiful imagery, and language that immerses the reader in the time period and world.
The language might not be for everyone, sometimes feeling a little heavy or old-fashioned, though I believe that is what really makes the world feel real. The mix of reality with the touch of folklore might not appeal to some, the lines often purposely blurred. However, overall, I think part of the magic of this book are these very things, so I suggest pushing through and giving it a try.
This book was what really helped me get out of my reading slump and reminded me why I love stories like this. It was so refreshing and beautifully told and I highly recommend it to any reader who loves Russian folklore, the tale of East of the Sun West of the Moon, fairytale retellings, or just any well-written magical story with an unlikely heroine. And if you're in a reading slump.
I began to understand clearly the joy of resting atop the winter oven beside the others and the need to name the inexplicable forces that ruled my world. The chyerti filled a vital need, allowing acceptance of the mysteries.
I am in awe of Katherine Arden. I thank her for sharing this amazing, under appreciated, lore. She has taken me someplace I did not know I needed to go. If I had my way this volume would be required reading in every high school, every student's journey to look to history, anthropology, literature, and psychology. It brings it all out, so very real to the senses, introducing you to the path of humankind.
Write more please, I will wait impatiently for your next offering. I want to travel with you to meet the realms you will wander as you introduce me to the world that was, that I have been ignorant of.... ignorance is curable after all and I look forward to the journeys to come.