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The Bear and The Nightingale: (Winternight Trilogy) Kindle Edition
Beware the evil in the woods...
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods. . .
Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
Now with over 100 5* reviews, readers are spellbound by this magical story:
'This book stayed with me, I didn't want it to end'
'A beautifully written story'
'An entrancing story, which swept me up from the very first chapter'
'Full of magic'
Make sure you've read all the books in the acclaimed Winternight Trilogy
1. The Bear and the Nightingale
2. The Girl in the Tower
3. The Winter of the Witch
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
It was late winter in northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow. The brilliant February landscape had given way to the dreary gray of March, and the household of Pyotr Vladimirovich were all sniffling from the damp and thin from six weeks’ fasting on black bread and fermented cabbage. But no one was thinking of chilblains or runny noses, or even, wistfully, of porridge and roast meats, for Dunya was to tell a story.
That evening, the old lady sat in the best place for talking: in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven. This oven was a massive affair built of fired clay, taller than a man and large enough that all four of Pyotr Vladimirovich’s children could have fit easily inside. The flat top served as a sleeping platform; its innards cooked their food, heated their kitchen, and made steam-baths for the sick.
“What tale will you have tonight?” Dunya inquired, enjoying the fire at her back. Pyotr’s children sat before her, perched on stools. They all loved stories, even the second son, Sasha, who was a self-consciously devout child, and would have insisted—had anyone asked him—that he preferred to pass the evening in prayer. But the church was cold, the sleet outside unrelenting. Sasha had thrust his head out-of-doors, gotten a faceful of wet, and retired, vanquished, to a stool a little apart from the others, where he sat affecting an expression of pious indifference.
The others set up a clamor on hearing Dunya’s question: “Finist the Falcon!”
“Ivan and the Gray Wolf!” “Firebird! Firebird!”
Little Alyosha stood on his stool and waved his arms, the better to be heard over his bigger siblings, and Pyotr’s boarhound raised its big, scarred head at the commotion.
But before Dunya could answer, the outer door clattered open and there came a roar from the storm without. A woman appeared in the doorway, shaking the wet from her long hair. Her face glowed with the chill, but she was thinner than even her children; the fire cast shadows in the hollows of cheek and throat and temple. Her deep-set eyes threw back the firelight. She stooped and seized Alyosha in her arms.
The child squealed in delight. “Mother!” he cried. “Matyushka!” Marina Ivanovna sank onto her stool, drawing it nearer the blaze.
Alyosha, still clasped in her arms, wound both fists around her braid. She trembled, though it was not obvious under her heavy clothes. “Pray the wretched ewe delivers tonight,” she said. “Otherwise I fear we shall never see your father again. Are you telling stories, Dunya?”
“If we might have quiet,” said the old lady tartly. She had been Marina’s nurse, too, long ago.
“I’ll have a story,” said Marina at once. Her tone was light, but her eyes were dark. Dunya gave her a sharp glance. The wind sobbed outside. “Tell the story of Frost, Dunyashka. Tell us of the frost-demon, the winter-king Karachun. He is abroad tonight, and angry at the thaw.”
Dunya hesitated. The elder children looked at each other. In Russian, Frost was called Morozko, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachun, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in the night. It was an ill-omened word, and unlucky to speak it while he still held the land in his grip. Marina was holding her son very tightly. Alyosha squirmed and tugged his mother’s braid.
“Very well,” said Dunya after a moment’s hesitation. “I shall tell the story of Morozko, of his kindness and his cruelty.” She put a slight emphasis on this name: the safe name that could not bring them ill luck. Marina smiled sardonically and untangled her son’s hands. None of the others made any protest, though the story of Frost was an old tale, and they had all heard it many times before. In Dunya’s rich, precise voice it could not fail to delight.
“In a certain princedom—” began Dunya. She paused and fixed a quelling eye upon Alyosha, who was squealing like a bat and bouncing in his mother’s arms.
“Hush,” said Marina, and handed him the end of her braid again to play with.
“In a certain princedom,” the old lady repeated, with dignity, “there lived a peasant who had a beautiful daughter.”
“Whasser name?” mumbled Alyosha. He was old enough to test the authenticity of fairy tales by seeking precise details from the tellers.
“Her name was Marfa,” said the old lady. “Little Marfa. And she was beautiful as sunshine in June, and brave and good-hearted besides. But Marfa had no mother; her own had died when she was an infant. Although her father had remarried, Marfa was still as motherless as any orphan could be. For while Marfa’s stepmother was quite a handsome woman, they say, and she made delicious cakes, wove fine cloth, and brewed rich kvas, her heart was cold and cruel. She hated Marfa for the girl’s beauty and goodness, favoring instead her own ugly, lazy daughter in all things. First the woman tried to make Marfa ugly in turn by giving her all the hardest work in the house, so that her hands would be twisted, her back bent, and her face lined. But Marfa was a strong girl, and perhaps possessed a bit of magic, for she did all her work un- complainingly and went on growing lovelier and lovelier as the years passed.
“So the stepmother—” seeing Alyosha’s open mouth, Dunya added, “—Darya Nikolaevna was her name—finding she could not make Marfa hard or ugly, schemed to rid herself of the girl once and for all. Thus, one day at midwinter, Darya turned to her husband and said, ‘Husband, I believe it is time for our Marfa to be wed.’
“Marfa was in the izba cooking pancakes. She looked at her step- mother with astonished joy, for the lady had never taken an interest in her, except to find fault. But her delight quickly turned to dismay.
“ ‘—And I have just the husband for her. Load her into the sledge and take her into the forest. We shall wed her to Morozko, the lord of winter. Can any maiden ask for a finer or richer bridegroom? Why, he is master of the white snow, the black firs, and the silver frost!’
“The husband—his name was Boris Borisovich—stared in horror at his wife. Boris loved his daughter, after all, and the cold embrace of the winter god is not for mortal maidens. But perhaps Darya had a bit of magic of her own, for her husband could refuse her nothing. Weeping, he loaded his daughter into the sledge, drove her deep into the forest, and left her at the foot of a fir tree.
“Long the girl sat alone, and she shivered and shook and grew colder and colder. At length, she heard a great clattering and snapping. She looked up to behold Frost himself coming toward her, leaping among the trees and snapping his fingers.”
“But what did he look like?” Olga demanded.
Dunya shrugged. “As to that, no two tellers agree. Some say he is naught but a cold, crackling breeze whispering among the firs. Others say he is an old man in a sledge, with bright eyes and cold hands. Others say he is like a warrior in his prime, but robed all in white, with weapons of ice. No one knows. But something came to Marfa as she sat there; an icy blast whipped around her face, and she grew colder than ever. And then Frost spoke to her, in the voice of the winter wind and the falling snow:
“ ‘Are you quite warm, my beauty?’
“Marfa was a well-brought-up girl who bore her troubles uncomplainingly, so she replied, ‘Quite warm, thank you, dear Lord Frost.’ At this, the demon laughed, and as he did, the wind blew harder than ever. All the trees groaned above their heads. Frost asked again, ‘And now? Warm enough, sweetheart?’ Marfa, though she could barely speak from the cold, again replied, ‘Warm, I am warm, thank you.’ Now it was a storm that raged overhead; the wind howled and gnashed its teeth until poor Marfa was certain it would tear the skin from her bones. But Frost was not laughing now, and when he asked a third time: ‘Warm, my darling?’ she answered, forcing the words between frozen lips as blackness danced before her eyes, ‘Yes . . . warm. I am warm, my Lord Frost.’
“Then he was filled with admiration for her courage and took pity on her plight. He wrapped her in his own robe of blue brocade and laid her in his sledge. When he drove out of the forest and left the girl by her own front door, she was still wrapped in the magnificent robe and bore also a chest of gems and gold and silver ornaments. Marfa’s father wept with joy to see the girl once more, but Darya and her daughter were furious to see Marfa so richly clad and radiant, with a prince ’s ransom at her side. So Darya turned to her husband and said, ‘Husband, quickly! Take my daughter Liza up in your sledge. The gifts that Frost has given Marfa are nothing to what he will give my girl!’
“Though in his heart Boris protested all this folly, he took Liza up in his sledge. The girl was wearing her finest gown and wrapped in heavy fur robes. Her father took her deep into the woods and left her beneath the same fir tree. Liza in turn sat a long time. She had begun to grow very cold, despite her furs, when at last Frost came through the trees, cracking his fingers and laughing to himself. He danced right up to Liza and breathed into her face, and his breath was the wind out of the north that freezes skin to bone. He smiled and asked, ‘Warm enough, darling?’ Liza, shuddering, answered, ‘Of course not, you fool! Can you not see that I am near perished with cold?’
“The wind blew harder than ever, howling about them in great, tearing gusts. Over the din he asked, ‘And now? Quite warm?’ The girl shrieked back, ‘But no, idiot! I am frozen! I have never been colder in my life! I am waiting for my bridegroom Frost, but the oaf hasn’t come.’ Hearing this, Frost’s eyes grew hard as adamant; he laid his fingers on her throat, leaned forward, and whispered into the girl’s ear, ‘Warm now, my pigeon?’ But the girl could not answer, for she had died when he touched her and lay frozen in the snow.
“At home, Darya waited, pacing back and forth. ‘Two chests of gold at least,’ she said, rubbing her hands. ‘A wedding-dress of silk velvet and bridal-blankets of the finest wool.’ Her husband said nothing. The shadows began to lengthen and there was still no sign of her daughter. At length, Darya sent her husband out to retrieve the girl, admonishing him to have care with the chests of treasure. But when Boris reached the tree where he had left his daughter that morning, there was no treasure at all: only the girl herself, lying dead in the snow. “With a heavy heart, the man lifted her in his arms and bore her back home. The mother ran out to meet them. ‘Liza,’ she called. ‘My love!’
“Then she saw the corpse of her child, huddled up in the bottom of the sledge. At that moment, the finger of Frost touched Darya’s heart, too, and she fell dead on the spot.”
There was a small, appreciative silence.
Then Olga spoke up plaintively. “But what happened to Marfa? Did she marry him? King Frost?”
“Cold embrace, indeed,” Kolya muttered to no one in particular, grinning.
Dunya gave him an austere look, but did not deign to reply.
“Well, no, Olya,” she said to the girl. “I shouldn’t think so. What use does Winter have for a mortal maiden? More likely she married a rich peasant, and brought him the largest dowry in all Rus’.”
Olga looked ready to protest this unromantic conclusion, but Dunya had already risen with a creaking of bones, eager to retire. The top of the oven was large as a great bed, and the old and the young and the sick slept upon it. Dunya made her bed there with Alyosha.
The others kissed their mother and slipped away. At last Marina herself rose. Despite her winter clothes, Dunya saw anew how thin she had grown, and it smote the old lady’s heart. It will soon be spring, she comforted herself. The woods will turn green and the beasts give rich milk. I will make her pie with eggs and curds and pheasant, and the sun will make her well again.
But the look in Marina’s eyes filled the old nurse with foreboding.--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- ASIN : B08464P2PR
- Publisher : Cornerstone Digital; 1st edition (January 30, 2020)
- Publication date : January 30, 2020
- Language : English
- File size : 2558 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 338 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #81,836 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 24, 2017
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All my Goodreads friends had raved about The Bear and the Nightingale. I felt like I had badly missed out. I purchased a Kindle copy but had not read it...then I won a copy of the second volume in the Winternight Trilogy, The Girl in the Tower, through Bookish. I immediately started reading the first book before the ARC of the second volume arrived.
I am not a huge fantasy fan. So take that into consideration when I say I loved this book. I loved the setting in old Rus', a time when paganism had not yet been driven out by Christianity. I loved the Russian fairy tales that inform the novel. Vasilisa, with her wide mouth and large green eyes, is a manifestation of a traditional Russian folk tale of a frog who turns into a princess.
The story opens on a late winter night in Rus', with children demanding a story. And they hear about the frost-demon, the winter king Morozko, also known as the death-god who froze bad children in the night. In the fairy tale, a step-mother sends her step-daughter into the winter forest to marry Morozko. The girl was nonplussed by the demon and he sent her home with dowry gifts. The step-mother was jealous of her good fortune and sends her own daughter to the Frost-King, expecting her to return with riches. But her spoiled daughter was ungrateful and complained. Morozko did not save her.
One of the children listening, Vasilisa, has inherited her mother's and grandmother's gift of recognizing the spirit world. Vasya is happier in the stable or the woods than she is in the house, and bristles against the limited life laid out for a girl child. She understands that the spirits are languishing, which means they cannot protect the hearth, home, or stable, and she befriends them in secret. Else, she would be called a witch or a mad woman.
In an interview with Book Page, Arden describes these household spirits of protection:
There is a guardian spirit for everything in Russian folklore. The domovoi guards the house; the dvorovoi guards the dooryard. The bannik guards the bathhouse, the ovinnik, the threshing-house. Their areas of influence are almost absurdly specific. And each creature has a certain appearance and personality, and people must do certain things to placate them.
Vasya's father goes to Moscow to seek a bride, and a bridegroom for his eldest daughter. His son Sasha stays to study for the priesthood. The Rus' ruler takes advantage, offering his 'mad' daughter as wife-- Anna, a pious Christian who sees the spirits and, believing they are demons, shrieks in despair.
Also sent back to the deep woods is the priest Konstantin, a man who seeks holy glory and preaches against the old ways. When voices talk to him he believes it is God who directs him to instill fear to drive the people to God. Vasya disturbs him, in more ways than one.
Vasya strives to maintain the old ways, fighting the evil spirits that threaten her family, and finding protection from Morozko. When the spirit of Death in the form of a monstrous bear attacks their community, Vasya is blamed. Rather than being forced to marry or enter a convent, or be killed as a witch, Vasya dresses as a boy and goes out into the world with a horse from Morozko, the unworldly stead Solovey, or Nightingale.
The novel is otherworldly and enchanting. It is a delight to read a female hero's journey.
In the early 1970s I audited a course in which I read Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Morphology of the Folktale by V. Propp. Reading Arden's story brought back things I had learned at that time.
The Hero's Journey as set out in Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces is found universally in folk lore, fairy tales, religions, and in literature. The journey includes separation, or leaving home and childhood; initiation and trials; symbolic death, a journey to the underworld or being 'in the belly of a whale'; meeting with a god; apotheosis; return, rescue, and freedom. There are magical agents or helpers along the way to aid the hero.
Propp breaks down the structure of folk tales. The villain threatening harm to the family, an object is sought to solve a problem, the hero is pursued and rescued, the hero is given difficult task, the false hero or villain is exposed, the villain is punished, and the hero is married.
The journey of a female hero is slightly different. First, the female hero must escape domestic imprisonment as a child. She is called to adventure, refusing supernatural aid. She may have to chose between a light and a dark man, searches for a father, and encounters an alternative mother figure.The female hero rejects her inferiority as a woman, and after trials and tests, succeeds in her quest.
Vasya is truly a female hero on a journey, born of the traditional Russian folk tale.
The story follows Vasya, a young girl who grows up into a woman (at the time in 1300s Russia which means she’s a teen). The author never came right out and said the time of the story but with some historical references I was able to figure it out. It takes place between 1310 and 1350. Vasya is a wild child who loves nature and is not like the other girls. She speaks her mind, which made me love her, and she does not want to get married and be a wife. She has a special ability that she can see all the mythical creatures, beings, and demons of her homeland, a country and wintry part of Russia that made me long for a powdered snowstorm the entire time I was reading it. I would say it’s perfect for a Christmas read, but really I would love it anytime of year. Vasya’s mother was like her, a bit magical, but she died in childbirth. Her father finally remarries so that Vasya can have a stepmother, but her stepmother is cruel. I was so surprised at the stepmother because she had the same abilities, to see demons and creatures, but instead of embracing it like Vasya she was terrified of it and that is why she hates Vasya I believe. Vasya spends her days talkin to horses, because she can speak with animals, and hanging out with the nymph- like woodland creatures. Her nursemaid, Dunya, is her best companion. Secretly, she is trying to protect Vasya from the winter demon who seems to want her for himself. He said she is to have a gem when she is old enough but her family does not want her to have it because they fear it will be bad news for her. The frost/winter demon is the brother of a terrible war bringing winter demon who also wants Vasya. As you can probably guess, it ends in an epic battle between both sides. Another aspect of this book was how Christianity came into a land that still honored the old ways and old gods. This is always interesting to me, especially since I am looking at it from a Christian point of view. Vasya does not want the old ways to die and it was interesting the author personified this concept by having her mythological creatures waste away the less people sacrificed to them or gave to them or believed in them. I am a Christian and I love mythology and the old ways, not as a religion but as a study in historic cultures, so this book was everything I didn’t know I was looking for in a book!
This book was full of magic, action, heart, wintry wonderlands, history, mythology, and so much more. It is the first book in a trilogy. Immediately when I finished this one I ordered the next one so I could keep going. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something I’ve liked so much. It reminded me just how much I love mythology from other cultures and the fun things authors can do with them. My series Chronicles of a Supernatural Huntsman takes mythology from different cultures and places those creatures and beings in the main character’s path, but she is usually fighting them because they’re evil. In The Bear and the Nightingale a lot of the beings were good, household demons or elves or whatever you would like to call them. They were friends with Vasya and hardly did harm.
I highly recommend this read. I breezed right through it and never wanted to put it down. I’m so glad it’s a trilogy and I plan to read all of them.
Top reviews from other countries
This is an entrancing story, which swept me up from the very first chapter. It is a wonderful blend of historical fiction, set during the times when Rus was still under the dominance of the Golden Horde, and mythical folklore, with an adult fairy-tale like feel. The wintry setting is completely captivating, making it the perfect read for dark nights; Arden's writing beautifully descriptive and lyrical.
The story unfolds slowly, with layers that gradually reveal themselves. It is a story about the clash of two cultures and belief systems, a story of the confined lives of women at the time and a girl who doesn't conform, a story of family ties and the daily struggles of a harsh way of life, and of course it is a story of magic. All these themes are wonderfully entwined together, with characters that resonate from the pages, even the more secondary ones such as Vasya's brother Sasha.
Some readers might feel uncomfortable with the portrayal of Christian beliefs in the story, however, personally, I didn't see the book as anti-Christian; and certainly there are Christian characters who are well portrayed such as Sasha, who goes to be a monk. However, the story does show how religion can be used in the wrong way, e.g.to muster fear. I personally thought that the character of Father Konstantin was very well portrayed; he was shown as a complex individual, who despite his beliefs, was also fighting certain desires, and clearly also revelled in the power he wielded over people through his position. Ultimately his vulnerabilities lead him to fall under false influence; and it is that false influence which is the true darkness at work in the story. I liked the complex relationship between Konstantin and Vasya; how is he both tempted by her, and also demonises her. I also liked the symbolism behind the Bear in the story; how his power feeds on people's fear.
I loved all the little household spirits; I think the Domovoi and Vazila were my favourites; and I was fascinated to read up further on Russia folklore, as I was previously completely unfamiliar with any of it. The character of Morozko, the Winter-King or frost-demon I thought was very intriguing; and I am interested in where Arden plans to go with him. There is the hint of possible romance, and yet one gets the feeling that Morozko is concealing quite a lot from Vasya. As this is the first of a trilogy, I was certainly left with unanswered questions related to Vasya's heritage and it's future significance.
There is plenty more I could say about the story and its various characters, which is testament to just how much I enjoyed it. The Bear and the Nightingale, for me, is one of those rare reads, that you know will stay with you for a long time; a book that encapsulates the magic and art of story-telling. I only hope the sequel will live up to expectations!
The Bear and The Nightingale is a grown up version of a fairytale set in Russia dealing with loss, grief, family struggles, forbidden love with a wonderful mystery of mythology and unknown magical creatures.
I have to admit it did take me a little while to get into the story but once I reminded myself of the particular genre I was reading my mindset saw the words differently. Once I got my head into the characters and the raw struggle of survival in a very cold Russian countryside I was spellbound. The magical creatures, that only few can see, fascinated me and I was eager for more. I felt like the creatures were there for moralistic reasons and were the villager’s guardians. The dark scenes were dramatic and traumatic and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages. I could almost picture the scenes played out in a big blockbuster movie! There is a forbidden love that someone is fighting desperately with their conscious and with a higher power. I adored this novel, its good to step out of your comfort zone and read something a little out of the ordinary. This book and it’s story would look impressive with a big movie budget bringing all the characters and creatures to life, a blockbuster in the making. 5/5*
I'm really glad I bought it "sight unseen" as I would almost certainly not have invested in it had I encountered it in a bookshop: the publisher must have had something in mind with the cover and the blurb on the back and inside the cover, but they would not have sold me the book which would have been a shame because they are not representative of the story and I would have missed out on a real treat.
The story is a robust mix of folk tales that escape from the fireside and roam the woods, even sneaking back into the house when the family aren't careful enough. The domoviye are a real part of people's lives and blend naturally with the developing Christianity provided no one tries to push the boundaries too hard. And the harsh winters give rise naturally to stories of ice and snow incarnate.
"The Bear and the Nightingale" is a stunning debut novel. Katherine Arden has a well judged turn of phrase and moves the plot on at just the right pace. The historic setting is credible and the characters believable so that when something steps out of the world of folk myths neither the people in the story nor the reader are in the least bit surprised.
If I was to pick one fault it would be with the editor who let a few small things slip past: not large enough to cause any real damage, but noticeable nonetheless.
I found the use of Russian names a blocker to the story line. Particularly the necessity to use 2 names for each person. Which is a Christian name, which is a surname? I spent more time trying to pronounce the names than understanding the story.
There were a few continuity errors and the language was repetitive in places.
Sadly, this 'fantasy' novel was just not 'magical' for me.
The story is written almost like a eerie but still whimsical tale told over the campfire - in fact, that's pretty much how it starts and the first chapter is amazing. This element of the story is maintained throughout, which makes for a really atmospheric, chilling read; if I'd read it on a dark winter's night I think I'd have probably felt all the creepy demons and frost-bitten air along the back of my neck, kissing my skin! It's that level of convincing in terms of the quality of the writing.
The story features quite a few different characters which is great - I love to connect to multiple characters instead of one W
"special" main character who doesn't yet realise their potential. There is of course one special main character with special gifts, as with many stories of this nature, but she doesn't overpower the story or become self-gratuitous and annoying as many do. In fact, Vasilisa is a really awesome main character in that we watch her grow and in doing so, we kind of embrace her weirdness with her; I found this really refreshing and all kinds of magical.
It's fairly obvious from the start though that this is a story which requires a long term investment. The action doesn't start for quite some time, rather this is a story which demands quite a bit of scene setting and building of ideas. This is great, beautiful and the author perfectly captures her setting - like I said I really felt I could have been there watching her in the deep snow, but sometimes it becomes overly descriptive and I caught myself thinking, "When is something going to happen?".
A really interesting book with some great ideas which plunged me straight into the Russian wilderness of myth and monsters; on paper, I couldn't have asked for more. But I was waiting for more almost always mostly due to the pacing, so the magic never really took off for me.