The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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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.

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I don’t even know how to begin to describe this odd book. It was wholly immersive but so much weirdness all packed into one lushly written novel? I decided on a whim to pick this book up for the Spooky September readathon because promises of dark woods, and I had no clue what I was really picking up. There were moments of love and moments of ??????? and moments that I swear I aged 500 years and I had only gone a page. I’m not sure if this review will make any sense, but I’mma try.

One of the biggest issues that I did have it with it was the pacing. I had been warned multiple times through other reviews that the first part is slow going in. And it is. However, I didn’t mind the slowness at this part. I thought it was an interesting setup, and I liked the slow development into the mythology and the wonders of the world along with all of the cast of characters. However, I did expect it to pick up. Except it took like 150 pages to finally get somewhere? And even when we did, it would pick up, slow down, pick up, and then drop off again. Anytime I would be like, we are finally getting somewhere (!!!!!), we would go back to literally going in circles and talk about characters that we didn’t need to. I literally hardcore skimmed maybe the last 40 pages because I honestly was so checked out.

I did like Arden’s writing quite a bit. The story honestly reminded me of a really well done fairytale, and I loved being in the setting and beautiful prose. It totally immersed me in a Russian fairytale in the dead of winter, and it really was a cool feeling and definitely brought me a little spookiness.

I also was a little lost with the characters. Like, I would constantly ask who the main character was. Was it Vasya?? Was it creepy priest??? Was it her dad? Like, we would spend so much time with everyone else, and I’m like, can we just focus on one because I don’t careeeeeeeeeeeeee what creepy priest man is doing.

The mythology and the folklore part of the story was super interesting. I wish we had more time with it, because it was so rich and lively and intriguing. Arden definitely did her research and I love how she infused it into the story.

Belle likes her fairytales but not so sure about that horse head on the cover???

I really can’t say too much about the plot, because I don’t even know how to explain it??? It’s kind of like slice of life moments compiled together to tell a magical tale of a girl’s life while fighting off an evilness in the woods? If this makes any sort of sense? It wasn’t bad, but we might have moved things along faster had we had a solid concrete plot.

Overall, this was an intriguing and confusing read for me. There were moments that I really enjoyed but moments I really didn’t know what to do with. I thought there were a lot of great things about it including the writing, the folklore, and the setting but I did find it a bit lacking with the pacing and the characters. It was definitely an interesting addition to the readathon. 3 crowns and a Belle rating!


What do you think? Have you read this book? Is it worth it to check out the other books in the series? Have you been conflicted like this over a book? Let’s discuss in the comments below!


5 thoughts on “The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

  1. Yeah I have tried the audio book twice now and I just couldn’t get very far. I have put it off for right now due to the pacing reason. Maybe one day I’ll finish it lol. Awesome review as always Mandy!

    Liked by 1 person

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