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review 2017-03-19 12:36
A magical fairytale with a touch of the classics
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK/Ebury Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

I’m a big fan of fairy tales and I’m always happy to discover new tales and stories that fit in that category, or that retell some old classics. And I love the stories based on old folktales that capture the beauty of old language, customs and the historical times and places long gone. The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me how much I like these stories and how the best of them are irresistible, at least for me.

Set in Russia (before it was Russia, as the author explains in her notes), the novel creates a great cast of characters, those “real” (princes and princesses, labourers, farmers, villagers, a landed family with food connections), others with a touch of the paranormal, like the protective spirits (of the house, the door, the stables, the forest, the lakes) that might turn nasty if not fed or treated kindly by human beings, the horrific ones (Death, The Bear, vampires), and animals, like the magical nightingale/horse of the title.

The character at the centre of the story, Vasilisa (Vasya), is the youngest child of her mother, Marina, who wanted to have a girl who would be like her. Marina had the ability to see things others couldn’t (the spirits of the forest, of the house, and she could also talk to animals) and she wants to pass her ability on. She dies when her daughter is born, and young Vasya grows among a family who loves her but doesn’t fully understand her. She can talk to horses, they teach her how to ride, and she can talk to the spirits others believe in but can’t see. She loves the old fairy tales and later realises they’re not only fantasy and old-wives tales. As is still the case, people fear what they can’t understand, and a newcomer, a priest, tries to change things by getting rid of old beliefs and putting the fear of God into people’s hearts. This can only lead to disaster.

The descriptions of the landscapes, the houses, the creatures, the atmosphere and the weather are beautifully achieved, in a style reminiscent of classical fairy-tales. The characters are also fascinating and we get a good understanding of their psychological make-up and of what moves them. Particularly interesting are the priest and Vasya’s stepmother, who try as they might, can’t reconcile their wishes with what is expected of them, but Dunya, the housemaid and ersatz mother to Vasya is a touching character, the family relations are heart-warming and even the animals have their own personalities. The author explains that she has tried to adapt the Russian names to make them easier for English-speaking audiences, and in my opinions she succeeds in both, maintaining the particular characteristics of Russian names, whilst not making it confusing or disorienting. The poetry of the language is another great success and I found the book impossible to put down.

There are many moments of sadness, scary moments, and also moments of the story that will make us think (Vasya is different and misunderstood, accused of being a witch despite her efforts to save her village and her people, the weight of custom and the role of men and women in traditional societies are also subject to discussion, family ties and religious thoughts…), but it is a magical story that will make us remember the child we once were. A word of warning, this is not a story for young children, and although some of the imagery is familiar as is the case with many of the classics, there are cruel and terrifying moments as well.

As an example of the writing, I wanted to share some of the passages I highlighted:

At last, they saw the city itself (Moscow), lusty and squalid, like a fair woman with feet caked in filth.

“In Moscow, priests are in love with their standing and think overmuch of the gold in their churches. They eat fat meat and preach poverty to the miserable.” (This is Sasha, one of Vasya’s brothers, who later becomes a monk).

Here, Vasya complaining of her lot in life:

“I am foolish. I was born for a cage, after all: convent of house, what else is there?”

“All of my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me….”

Just in case I didn’t make myself clear, I love this book, and although I know it’s not the type of book that everybody will like, I’d recommend that you check a sample or the read inside feature and see what you think. You might be rewarded with a magical reading.

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review 2017-03-17 15:09
A magical fairytale with a touch of the classics
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK/Ebury Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

I’m a big fan of fairy tales and I’m always happy to discover new tales and stories that fit in that category, or that retell some old classics. And I love the stories based on old folktales that capture the beauty of old language, customs and the historical times and places long gone. The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me how much I like these stories and how the best of them are irresistible, at least for me.

Set in Russia (before it was Russia, as the author explains in her notes), the novel creates a great cast of characters, those “real” (princes and princesses, labourers, farmers, villagers, a landed family with food connections), others with a touch of the paranormal, like the protective spirits (of the house, the door, the stables, the forest, the lakes) that might turn nasty if not fed or treated kindly by human beings, the horrific ones (Death, The Bear, vampires), and animals, like the magical nightingale/horse of the title.

The character at the centre of the story, Vasilisa (Vasya), is the youngest child of her mother, Marina, who wanted to have a girl who would be like her. Marina had the ability to see things others couldn’t (the spirits of the forest, of the house, and she could also talk to animals) and she wants to pass her ability on. She dies when her daughter is born, and young Vasya grows among a family who loves her but doesn’t fully understand her. She can talk to horses, they teach her how to ride, and she can talk to the spirits others believe in but can’t see. She loves the old fairy tales and later realises they’re not only fantasy and old-wives tales. As is still the case, people fear what they can’t understand, and a newcomer, a priest, tries to change things by getting rid of old beliefs and putting the fear of God into people’s hearts. This can only lead to disaster.

The descriptions of the landscapes, the houses, the creatures, the atmosphere and the weather are beautifully achieved, in a style reminiscent of classical fairy-tales. The characters are also fascinating and we get a good understanding of their psychological make-up and of what moves them. Particularly interesting are the priest and Vasya’s stepmother, who try as they might, can’t reconcile their wishes with what is expected of them, but Dunya, the housemaid and ersatz mother to Vasya is a touching character, the family relations are heart-warming and even the animals have their own personalities. The author explains that she has tried to adapt the Russian names to make them easier for English-speaking audiences, and in my opinions she succeeds in both, maintaining the particular characteristics of Russian names, whilst not making it confusing or disorienting. The poetry of the language is another great success and I found the book impossible to put down.

There are many moments of sadness, scary moments, and also moments of the story that will make us think (Vasya is different and misunderstood, accused of being a witch despite her efforts to save her village and her people, the weight of custom and the role of men and women in traditional societies are also subject to discussion, family ties and religious thoughts…), but it is a magical story that will make us remember the child we once were. A word of warning, this is not a story for young children, and although some of the imagery is familiar as is the case with many of the classics, there are cruel and terrifying moments as well.

As an example of the writing, I wanted to share some of the passages I highlighted:

At last, they saw the city itself (Moscow), lusty and squalid, like a fair woman with feet caked in filth.

“In Moscow, priests are in love with their standing and think overmuch of the gold in their churches. They eat fat meat and preach poverty to the miserable.” (This is Sasha, one of Vasya’s brothers, who later becomes a monk).

Here, Vasya complaining of her lot in life:

“I am foolish. I was born for a cage, after all: convent of house, what else is there?”

“All of my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me….”

Just in case I didn’t make myself clear, I love this book, and although I know it’s not the type of book that everybody will like, I’d recommend that you check a sample or the read inside feature and see what you think. You might be rewarded with a magical reading.

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review 2017-02-12 17:01
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

This novel was quite an adventure! Based on a Russian fairy tale, I loved the journey that the author took me on, for each turn of the page, I knew that the house of Pyotr and its community was not just a typical village but one that had a dark past.

 

The story begins with the death of Pyotr’s wife. Making his way to Moscow with his two sons, he hopes to secure himself a new wife. His first wife had come from a line of royalty which Pyotr takes advantage of while in Moscow and I would be lying if I said, all that they did in Moscow was find a new wife for Pyotr. This story now becomes intertwined with other stories which I found enjoyable, stories that were rich and full of culture. These stories added significant individuals and their accounts intensified the storyline. Returning home, Pyotr has more issues and complications that he has to attend to, these matters are never easy as it seems that many people have different opinions on the subject matter.

 

His youngest daughter was Vasya and I enjoyed her character the most. Her strong spirit and ambition made her who she was, she stood out, when others were trying to tame her. I enjoyed this novel more than I thought I would. The cover and the fact that it was a fairy tale is what originally attracted me to this novel. I was distracted though while reading this novel by all the different names that were used in it. These names are the first names of the individuals in the novel, names that were far from typical and I found hard to pronounce. I also found it confusing when individuals switched from using their first full name to using their first name in a shorten version, that took a bit to figure out. I can’t wait to read the second novel in this sequel.

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review 2017-02-03 00:02
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah
  I loved it. I liked the characters. I enjoyed trying to figure out who was telling the story. The story captivated me. There were heroes and villains. How people survived the occupation amazes me. Each does what they can to survive and fight. I don't want to say much because I don't want to ruin the story but this is a keeper.
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review 2017-02-01 14:57
an interesting read
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

I was given this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.    A family grows in rural Russia.  Their lives are in constant struggle with the natural world which is beyond their control.  They find comfort in a mixture of old ‘pagan’ beliefs and the newer beliefs of the Christian church.   A young woman fights outside pressures to find a path in an ever-changing world.    This world is made up of Vasilisa and her family.  Vasilisa is a young girl who loves folk tales and lives one. Her empathy with the natural and spiritual world makes her the apex of the conflict between old and new beliefs. This book shares the Fairy-tale feel of Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless and the Brothers Karamazov’s (by Dostoyevsky) questioning of spirituality, magic, and religion.  I highly recommend this book.

Source: vikzwrites.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/bear-and-nightingale-by-katherine-arden
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