I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I LOVE Russian fairy tales. Absolutely adore them. I have a picture book of the story of Vasilisa the Brave and it's one of my favorites. So when I first saw this book discussed on here, I knew I had to read it.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fairy tale centered around wild child Vasilisa in her small village. Vasya's stepmother and the new priest scare the villagers away from their old traditions which leads to disaster and death visiting the village. Always a believing in the old stories and creatures, Vasya works to protect her family and her village.
I loved this story. It was everything I could have hoped for in a new fairy tale. I couldn't predict the plot and in did the ending didn't fit my expectations. Which, to be honest, kinda chuffed me a little but I'll talk about that more towards the end. It was a original story, with notes of other Russian stories without being just a made over version of one. It was it's own original story and I loved that.
All the characters were amazing, Vasya being my favorite. Well, I actually loved Solovey more because I'm a sucker for a talking horse but he didn't come in until about part 3. Vasya was a great protagonist. She's adorable and quirky and I loved watching her grow up throughout the story. The other characters were equally interesting and all were sympathetic, even Anna and Konstantin despite being the stories villains.
The biggest drawback to the book for me is the ending of the climax did feel a little rushed and brushed passed. Like, there was kind of a deus ex machina I felt towards the end. The resolution fit with the overall build up the story had, which I appreciated, but I do think the execution could have been better. Like the pendant. It didn't seem to have anything to do with the resolution, which is what I kept expecting. Maybe I missed something and need a reread.
I wasn't a fan of Vasya ending with "I will never get married because I'm a strong independent woman", simply because I'm tired of female protagonists in modern fairy tales making that declaration. It'd be nice to have a fairy tale where that wasn't a big concern, and while it wasn't out of character for Vasya, it also felt like it was added just to make her a "modern" hero. Like, her not wanting to get married had no impact or bearing on the overall plot at all. And her leaving her family to travel did feel out of character for her since all throughout the story we see how important her family and her village are to her, to the point she's willing to die for them. Then she's suddenly like, "I'm out, bye"? I just feel like if Arden was committed to the story ending this way, which clearly she was, she could have made these decisions clearer and more relevant throughout the whole novel.
This is completely a me problem, though, since what I'm getting at is the decisions at the end are just things I personally don't like in the story. Overall she wrote everything well and I'm just SUPER picky about my fairy tales. And I loved the relationship between Vasya and Morozko and wished she had shown us more of that. That to me would have been more interesting than her failed betrothal, but again, personal taste here.
Final rating: 5 out of 5. When I push past my pickiness, this story is amazing and damn close to being a perfect story.
Final thought: Wish Baba Yaga was in it but I guess we can't have it all.