Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

by - 9:40 AM

| ISBN: 978-1101885932 | Pages: 322 |
Publication Date: January 10, 2017 | Source: Library
| Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars | 

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.
Fun fact: This is the fourth book that I've given a 5 star rating to on Goodreads this year so you know I absolutely adored this book.

I am eternally grateful to the library spirits for leading me to this book because prior to stumbling across this novel, I had never heard of The Bear and the Nightingale. From the minute this story begins, I was swept into the bitter cold 'Rus winter and found myself sitting with the Vasya's family as Dunya begins her story.

“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.” 

I've always loved anything to do with folklore and mythology and I have no idea why I never considered researching more about Russian mythology. There's the vazila that taught Vasya to speak horse, the ruslka who agreed to stop drowning men in exchange for Vasya's friendship and flower blossoms, to the vodianoy who stole Kolya's basket of fish - these are just a snippet of the mystical world that is 'Rus.

“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives.” 

Amidst this beautiful world, which by the way, is written in the most lyrical writing style, lives Vasya and her family. Within a couple of pages, I was already in love with her siblings, father, and mother - I felt her father's pain when her mother passed, I felt the protectiveness that Alyosha felt towards Vasya. More importantly, I loved Vasya. 

“You are too attached to things as they are. You must allow things to be what best suits your purpose. And then they will.” 

She spends the entire novel just trying to understand herself, her world, and to save her family. However, she's treated as pretty much an outcast as her father can't bear to be reminded that she's the reason why he lost his wife. Despite that, she still loves her family and does everything she can once she finds out about what is plaguing her village.

“I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.” 

While I could lose myself in this beautiful book, it would have just been a 4 star if it weren't for Vasya's two "enemies." First off, we have Vasya's pious stepmother and Father Konstantin who spend the whole book blinded by their religious fervor and use tactics such as intimidation, fear, and blame to choke the life of everything that is not Christian out of Vasya's town. Religious nutjobs just make such great antagonists as they are so easy to hate for their close mindness but they also invoke so much thought faith.

“He is full of desire. Desire and fear. He does not know what he desires, and he does not admit his fear. But he feels both, strong enough to strangle.” 

Second, we have the Bear, a thousand year old demon who wants nothing more than the destruction of the world under his control. His ominous presence throughout the novel enhanced the entire mystical feel and brought this book out of straight historical fiction into the world of magical realism.

There is so much I want to say but I don't want to spoil important plot details. At the end of all this, I loved this book for its captivating storyline and ethereal writing that brought everything on the page into real life. Based on Goodreads, the sequel comes out January 9th next year and I cannot wait.

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