Title: The Bear and the Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Series: The Bear and the Nightingale

Genre: Fantasy, Folklore

Source: NetGalley




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 calls 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.

(Source: Goodreads)


General Overview

The book was like a breath of fresh air to me, as it has been a while that I have come across tales which can enchant me. As an ardent lover of Fantasy genre, I was highly appeased with the tale spun in this book. Although it is a first book in the series, it doesn’t leave you on the edge. A perfect finish for the next beginning.


Marina wanted a child just like her own mother. She decides to give birth to this child in spite of knowing that she may not live after the childbirth. Pyotr, her husband is beyond grief when his wife passes away, but he brings up Vasilisa honoring the promise given to his dying wife. Vasilisa, lovingly called as Vasya, is a child like no other. Having an ability to communicate with spirits make her different from others and earns her the favor from Winter Demon.

Her life becomes a turmoil with the appearance of her stepmother who is against anything that Vasya does. As she grows up, there are ordeals waiting for her which become dangerous with the passage of time. Someone is after Vasya and wants her desperately to be by his side. Is he a friend or foe? Will Vasya fulfill her destiny or succumb to her enemies?


Very impressive set of characters. Each character had its own individuality and its own presence. The portrayal of these characters was so real that you could- feel the connect, sympathize with their situations, feel the battle of their thoughts and emotions in their mind and heart. I felt frustrated when they made mistakes and laughed with joy when they emerged victorious in their endeavors.

“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”

Vasya, the protagonist, was a strong character. She was clearly a free-willed person who did things as per her heart. She was free from inhibitions and lived life on her own terms. Although she was rebuked and looked down upon by other people, she never lost faith in things which she believed in. The more her ordeals became harder, more her determination became stronger.

Though the role of her brothers was small but it was quite significant. I especially liked her youngest brother, Alyosha. The bond between him and Vasya was so strong that she never needed to explain her brother anything. He always stood for her in any given circumstances.

Konstantin and Anna were other impressive characters, well drawn by the author. They were more like stimulants of various events in the story. Though they were antagonists, still I couldn’t hate them completely. Although the author had created them in a gray shade, she made it sure that as a reader one is able to understand their reasons, their fears, and their beliefs which forced them to act in a negative manner.


28862387I just loved this book cover… not because it was beautiful or eye-catching, but because it couldn’t be apter. When I first started reading the book, I didn’t pay much attention to the cover… in other words, I didn’t feel the pull. But as I finished the story and looked at it again, I recognized Morozko’s dwelling… Then, it felt so right as a book cover!!!

Even though it is her debut novel, I was very impressed with Katherine’s writing skills. Especially her descriptions of Northern Russia are excellent. {I could feel the chills while sitting in my room.} Her writing just transports you to Northern Russia, with winter all around and immense cold. Such intense is her writing that one can feel that cold and visualize the snow getting deposited around.

The high-point of the book was anticipation. Katherine has drafted the book in such a way that one ends up waiting for something unknown to happen in the next moment. It just keeps on building up and keeps the reader glued to the book.

The tough life on that rough land has also been well illustrated. The difficulties faced by the people living in such rough terrain, away from most of the civilization; their daily life routine; their traditions and culture; the hardships they incur while taking care of their families and animals were told with such clarity.

Not only this, the author has marvelously brought out so many real-life issues within this fantasy novel; like the gender inequality, early marriage, the fight for dominance among the faiths and much more.

Katherine has wonderfully balanced between reality and fantasy. On one hand, there is tangled web of politics and religion and on the other hand, there are mythical creatures and ancient gods. This mix of elements just brought the book to a whole new level.


There were few parts of the book which felt prolonged and hampered the pace of the story.



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A commendable work from a debut author. Highly recommended for those who are interested in Russian folklore and fantasy. Eagerly waiting for more books in this series.

Add it to your TBR at GOODREADS

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