Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Book Review | The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Genre: Fantasy/Folklore Fiction

Publication Date: 10th January 2017

My Rating: ★★

Goodreads Summary:

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 call 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.

**No Spoilers**

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I'd heard a lot of good things about this book before reading it so i was really interested in picking it up. All I knew was that it was about Russian Folklore and people had compared the 'feel' of it as liked Uprooted, which I really enjoyed. I wasn't disappointed by this book, but equally something about it wasn't quite for me.

I found the characters very interesting and unique, particularly Vasya and her brother. Anna infuriated me (as she is meant to), and I really found myself feeling creeped out by Konstantin. I really felt the emotions in this book, and I feel the author did an amazing job of conveying the mood of the novel and the characters within. 

Arden really has a way with words because this book was beautifully written. It was enchanting throughout with magical imagery painted into her writing. I really felt like I was there in the woods, or the farm, or in Moscow. I also loved the magical creatures and fairytales that I'd never heard of before. They really gave me an insight into Russian culture that I'd never had before. The author clearly invested so much time into researching all the folklore and it pays off.

One thing I didn't like started about 50% of the way through the book. It started feeling very nature versus religion with no in between. I found Konstantin to be very similar to Frollo from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame; with his lusting over a teenage girl and then blaming her for being the 'devil's temptation'. I feel like this trope of Nature v. Religion is very overused in books and it made me feel as though I'd read this story before.

Although most characters felt very real, some of them unfortunately fell flat for me and I feel that not much time was spent  to get to know them. In particular this happened with most of Vasya's siblings. The pacing also felt a bit off with years passing in the first 75% (so much so that sometimes I couldn't work out what ages many characters were), and then a solid focus on just a couple of weeks for the last 25% of the book. The pacing just threw me off a bit and didn't feel like it fit with the way the rest of the book was written.

Having said those things, I did really enjoy reading this book, but there was just something missing for me. I'm not sure if it was my lack of knowledge regarding Russian folklore and words, or if the pacing and certain characters took me out of the story too much. Either way, I would still definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in folklore or Russian history. It does make for a fascinating read.