What’s it all about?:
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.
What did I think?:
The Bear And The Nightingale was the second book in my Five Star TBR Predictions and who couldn’t fail to be seduced by that gorgeous cover? It was not only the cover that drew me to this story however, it was the promise of Russian folklore and fairy-tale elements which I always adore in a novel and in recent books I have read, have been executed to perfection. The Bear and The Nightingale was no exception, it’s a slow burner of a book but this does not in any way affect how compelling it is and the sheer magnificence of the characters, particularly our female lead, Vasya made this book all the more special to me. I was delighted to discover it’s going to be part of a trilogy and have already got my sticky fingers on the second book in the series, to be read hopefully very soon.
Our main character, Vasilisa is raised in the Russian wilderness with her family, surrounded by the spirits that dwell in the woods and the creatures that help out around the house in return for treats. In the freezing temperatures, our fiesty and independent Vasya likes nothing more than snuggling round the oven at night with her siblings, being raised upon the old Russian tales of her nurse and causing a little bit of trouble when she deigns to go off exploring on her own as a young child with a headstrong and determined nature. Sadly, her mother dies and her father brings home a new wife to be “mother” to Vasya and the rest of the family.
It soon becomes apparent that her stepmother, Anna is incredibly religious and they don’t really see eye to eye, particularly considering the more spiritual beliefs of Vasya and her fellow villagers. Armed with the protection of the new priest to the area, Anna formulates a plan to rid the village of their superstitious beliefs and perhaps also get rid of Vasya, the thorn in her side, in the process. However, Anna has not accounted for the fact that there may be a grain of truth in the local legends and the further she pushes these other-worldly creatures away, the easier it is for darkness to creep in.
I won’t say too much more about the plot but rest assured, there is so much going on in this novel than you initially expect. The writing is lyrical and delicious but the reason why I loved this book so much had to be the character of Vasya. I loved her stubbornness, her desire to be different, her strength and bravery… I could go on. She was the perfect female protagonist and I adored her journey from a young, precocious child to a determined young woman who sticks to her beliefs and the advice from her gentle, loyal nurse. I touched on a little bit of Russian folklore in a book I read fairly recently, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente and it was lovely to come across some more in The Bear And The Nightingale which in comparison, I felt I could picture much more vividly.
The only reason why I haven’t given this book five stars (and it was very close indeed) was that I felt the story became a little confusing at times when Vasya visited Morozko and occasionally I didn’t understand the symbolism behind what was going on. However, this is a beautifully atmospheric story to read, especially in the winter months and you can really feel the Russian ice and snow through writing that is nothing short of magical. As the UK prepare themselves for some cold air coming across from Siberia this week, perhaps it’s the perfect time to pick it up?
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):