The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

25489134A beautiful, intriguing story about a young girl living on the edge of the Russian wilderness. The winters are long and harsh, but Vasilisa and her siblings get by listening to old fairy tales about demons and spirits. But after her mother dies and her father brings back a new wife from Moscow, Vasilisa starts to realise the importance of the old traditions honouring the spirits of the house, and that fairy tales are based on truth. As the villagers begin to let go of the old ways, danger creeps closer and Vasilisa must defy the ones she loves to protect them all from a terrible evil.

Despite reading multiple reviews before starting this book, it took me by surprise. It reads exactly like a fairy tale, but is deeply detailed and imaginative. The story is truly beautiful. There is no wild, grand adventure, but rather a slow burn of constant magic and mystery of Russian folklore, and Vasilisa’s relationship with the spirits that protect her village. I don’t know how authentic the Russian or the folklore is, but it certainly felt authentic. The writing is perfect. The style flows and is unbelievably easy to read considering the number of unfamiliar words and names. I was well and truly sucked in.

Every character is comprehendible, even the ones who do bad things. Pyotr is driven by love of his family and that can be seen in every decision, even the ones I didn’t agree with. Father Konstantin is devoted to God and genuinely believes he is doing God’s bidding, though even he can admit that he is driven by temptation and greed. Anna is the only character that I truly disliked, but she lived her entire life in fear and it drove her insane. I liked that these characters were all fully developed, with understandable reasons behind their madness and hate.

The Bear and the Nightingale is dark and engaging, and truly impressive as a debut novel.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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