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review 2019-05-30 18:32
The Bear and the Nightingale -- Review
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Disclosure -- I obtained this book through loan from my local public library.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical romance, contemporary gothic romance, and assorted non-fiction.


Over the years and for various reasons, I've done a tiny bit of reading in both Russian history and Russian mythology, so I wasn't completely lost reading The Bear and the Nightingale.  That helped a lot, because I think someone completely unfamiliar with the various spirits -- the rusalka, the domovoi, and so on -- might have found those elements frustrating.  Russian names with their various diminutives can also be confusing.


And I seriously wish authors would put glossaries at the beginning of their books rather than at the end!  Or at least put a note at the beginning that the various words and phrases are explained . . . somewhere.  This is especially true when the real world history is less commonly familiar than, say, the French Revolution or even the Wars of the Roses.


The Bear and the Nightingale is set in a pseudo-mythical, pseudo-medieval Russia of sorts, but no real dates are given.  Other than the names of a few "grand princes" -- who would later be more or less the equivalent of the tsars -- there are no concrete clues as to the time period to help the reader get her bearings.  Again those notes are at the end of the book, by which time it's too late to clear up the reader's possible confusion.


Are we just supposed to sneak a peek at the end to see if there are notes?  What about those of us who don't want to be accidentally spoilered?


Okay, those are the negatives.


I enjoyed the story and the characters, even though for the most part they were frustrating.  Frustrating in a good way, in that I wanted things to work out for them even while I understood how their struggles were building.


Vasilisa is the daughter of a well-to-do landowner -- not quite a noble -- and a slightly mystical woman who dies giving birth to her.  She grows up with several older siblings, and her devoted nurse Dunya.  Vasilisa is nominally Christian, as they all are, but she has her mother's magic and ties to the old religion of house and woodland and water spirits.


As she approaches maturity, Vasilisa is brought into contact with Morozko, the Frost Demon.  There are of course dangers in this relationship, but Morozko also seems to be the only one who knows what Vasilisa really is.  He hasn't revealed all that information, not to her and not to the reader, by the time this volume of the saga comes to an end.  I guess there's more in The Girl in the Tower, the next book in the series.


The writing is wonderful.  After reading so many poorly written Kindle freebies, I was ready for some fine composition, and Arden didn't disappoint.  I'm not sure exactly when I'll get around to it, but the book is due back at the library next Wednesday, so I'd better hurry!


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review 2019-04-20 21:06
the setting is used well
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

I really wanted to like this much more than I did. However, parts of the book are very been there and done that. What makes the book stand out is the use Russian folklore and setting. Arden really does have the knowledge that makes the world believable.

In fact, the best parts of the book are the ones where the heroine is growing up. These are so beautifully written, and quite frankly are the reason why the book rates three stars from me. When the book progresses to attacking the big bad, the sense of repetition of many other fantasy stories is so strong. (Please note, I am NOT accusing Arden of plaragism. It is just a been there, done that feeling as a reader). For instance, there is the whole Christianity bad, old ways good trope we have seen in so many other books. To be fair, I don't think Arden intended for it to be read this, the heroine's brother becomes a monk though he then leaves the action (to most likely show up in book 2 or 3), but that is what it comes to at the end of the book, especially as the heroine becomes the last bastion for the old way.

The heroine, too, is like so many heroines we see in fantasy and YA, out of place but special; thinks she isn't pretty, but everyone else thinks she is. What Arden gets bonus points for is her depiction of a loving family. The love that the siblings feel for each other, including Irina who is the daughter of the second wife, is wonderfully shown - not told, but shown. This makes it more disappointing when the reasons for some character's actions are simply jealousy, though the character of the stepmother gets a bit more sympathy here than in other retellings. While the book does pass the Bechdel test, it should be noted that the heroine is the expectational girl - the extra special one who is better than all the other women in the novel.

Arden writes good horses though, which makes up for the whole "lets make the names more exotic spelling" thing that she uses. (I don't speak or read Russia, but even I recognized it for what it was. Arden admits to it in the afterword. I hate it when authors do that. It pisses me off. Usually that would get this book a two star rating, but the setting and early parts of the book are so good). I also enjoyed the complete lack of a love story for the heroine. Sadly, despite the ending, I don't really feel any desire to read the rest of the series.

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review 2019-02-01 18:01
Review: The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale gets off to a great start. Right away, Katherine Arden transports the reader to the frigid Russian landscape. The setting is breathtaking, to think back on any moment of this novel brings forth a recollection of seeing my own breath. That's how wonderfully the author draws the setting. And nowhere in these three hundred pages does she relent. This is a story that will have you reaching for an extra blanket.

Arden also excels in creating characters with as much color and character as the setting. Vasya, Pyotr, and Sasha are all endearing and intriguing in their own ways. Even the characters that could easily fall into stereotypes are given some depth, characters like Konstantin, the village priest, and Anna, the stepmother who is perceived as being insane. These are not the clichés you often find in the genre.

Arden builds upon the fairy tales and magical realism she establishes early in the story until it begins to steer the story. And this is where perhaps my own particular biases kept me from fully enjoying this story. I like a little magic in any story, but I only go so far with it. Fantasy is not, nor has ever been, my thing. When the plot began to be driven by more fantastic elements, I became a bit bored. Mythical creatures fighting in a forest—yawn—haven't I seen this all before?

Certainly, The Bear and the Nightingale brought to mind The Chronicles of Narnia series. While C.S. Lewis's series was intended for a younger audience and was based on a Christian perspective, Arden's novel is much more mature and is focused on mythic traditions and an affinity for nature. The beauty of Arden’s framework and of her prose is unparalleled, however. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

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review 2018-12-24 20:07
Have you ever picked up a book because you kept seeing its cover everywhere?
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. This book contains fantasy elements mixed with a Russian folktale influence. The reader follows Vasya, a young Russian girl, who was predestined before her birth for something great and who possesses the old magic. Vasya has the Sight and can see and communicate with the household spirits (chyerti). Her peculiar gifts aren't necessarily seen as a problem (beyond her possible difficulties securing a husband) until her father gets married to the daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Her stepmother is deeply religious and in conjunction with the village's new priest, Konstantin, begins to sway Vasya's father into marrying her off as soon as possible. Konstantin preys on the fears of his congregants and Vasya finds herself a pariah among the very people she wishes to help. [A/N: Konstantin is a creep and anyone who says otherwise is crazy.] There comes a winter which is particularly harsh and the Bear becomes active from the people's fears (which just so happens to be his source of nourishment). It turns out that the tales that Vasya's nurse have told for years upon years seem to be true as she becomes mixed up with the lifelong feud between The Winter King and his brother Morozko (the Bear). The end is rather fuzzily done up but that's to be expected from a book which was created as part of a trilogy. Heavy on religious and mystical elements, this book took me quite a long while to get through even though once I picked it back up I found it deeply interesting. I will most likely read the next in the series (or give it a good attempt) next year. This is a book that would be ideal during the cold winter nights when you have nothing pressing to do and can curl up with a book for hours on end. 6/10


The cover from the Australian edition. [Source: Penguin Books Australia] 


What's Up Next: The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans


What I'm Currently Reading: Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-12-15 00:58
[REVIEW] The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

I loved this book. Hell, I don’t even know what to say about it except I want to gush. I read this in 24 hours and I can tell you that it was completely worth it.

My poor heart is aching.

It is such a beautiful, heartbreaking story that grabs you and never lets you go. There is not a single character I hated (well, Konstantin aka Frollo cause it’s practically impossible to like him). Every character was fleshed out and you felt for them, you knew them, you grew attached and worried about them. 

The prose is lovely and atmospheric. Even if right now the heat is sweltering, through Arden’s words I traveled to a wintry Russia full of mystery and snow. It’s so easy to dive into the world and the story and want to stay there forever, to the point that you will resent anyone that tries to distract you.

I loved the lore, the commentary on women’s lives during this era, the familial bonds that tied the story together... I loved it all.



Reading progress notes


5% - The prose is lovely and the book is so atmospheric. I’m half in love with it already.
17% - I’m intrigued with the stranger. And I’m terrified for Pyotr’s family. I think his marriage won’t be a good one.
22% - Oh, Olga. I feel for you and your wish for a raven-haired prince. And I feel for Vasya.
30% - Hating Konstantin already.
41% - This fucker is in love with her, isn’t he?
81% - "Nothing changed, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”
84% - "All around them was winter, the shroud of bitter snow, the earth like iron, the river like blue marble."

This prose. Can I marry it?
90% - I'm in tears.
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