- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 11 hours and 48 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: January 10, 2017
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01MRSYOEJ
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel Audiobook – Unabridged
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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.
This story builds slowly introducing Vasya and her family, most of whom practice the old ways. The town sees Vasya as a witch and wild child who runs off into the forest getting into all sorts of trouble. The story begins with Vasya‘s birth in those woods and her mother’s death. This sets Vasya up to be raised by a father who loves her fiercely, but isn’t quite sure what to do with her. It doesn’t help that all his other children are pretty normal and wants normal lives of being married and making children, things which Vasya seems to have no interest in.
The story includes some interesting characters, one of whom is a horse named Nightingale. They also include a pair of brothers who are demons of the woods and of winter itself that no one but Vasya and her half-crazed step mother can see. The story is told in lyrical prose that might be a bit hard to follow at first. Once I figured out the rhythm of the story, I got really into Vasya‘s story, but I admit it took me a while.
Although the story moves forward at an awkward pace, I felt every scene and could easily imagine the environment of each character. There is good and evil, but it is more a story about living in the grey. When a girl is born different she opens the eyes of everyone she encounters to the supernatural all around them.
Although this book tells a complete story, I am really looking forward to where the author will take the characters next. There were a few loose ends but I am sated by the conclusion to this story. This story is so much of an experience of the senses. THE BEAR AND NIGHTINGALE will appeal to readers who love superstition and fear as the main tone of a fairy tale. It is an adult book about Russian folklore and it is beautifully written.