Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey (Random House), 2017 (Jan 10)
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
**I received a copy of this book free from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review**
But let’s get on with the plot…and I probably won’t do it justice because a LOT happens in this story.
Pyotr Vladimirovich and his wife, Marina, love each other very much. They live in the woods, away from the large Metropolitan area of Moscow, and they have several children. They are extremely happy. When Marina tells Pyotr that she is pregnant, he worries for his small, frail wife: the winters are harsh in Rus’ and she is older than most of child-bearing age. But Marina insists that this child is important. As Marina insists, “I want a child like my mother.”
Marina’s mother had gifts that her other children do not have. Marina knows her child will have them. And she sacrifices her life for little Vasilisa’s, aka Vasya’s life. As she grows, she becomes wild and runs around the forest. Eventually, Pyotr realizes that he must wed again, though he still misses and loves his departed wife. He marries Anna, daughter of a powerful man, in exchange for marrying his oldest daughter to his son. But Anna sees demons and isn’t really mother material.
As Vasya grows, she grows wild and striking, but not beautiful. She communes with the spirits of the forest and the home, and gives them food and spirits. But soon, a priest comes to Vasya’s home: a priest who sees the young and wild Vasya and wants to tame her. He instills fear into the townspeople and they stop giving sacrifices to the sprites in the home. This sets off a chain of events that involves the Winter-king Morozko, and it awakens the Bear, the embodiment of fear and death.
Can a young spirited girl save the spirits and keep the old ways alive? Or will the priest frighten the people so much that doom will fall on the village, the people, and Vasya’s family?
In a story rich with folklore and magic, Arden weaves an original narrative that reads like a fairy tale. Beautiful and mystical, Vasya is a wilderness princess that I rooted for until the end.
Yes yes yes! I plan to get a physical copy of this book however I can. This book would be great for the classroom. Though not technically “historical fiction” according to some, I feel the Russian references and folklore would be great to use in the classroom, and the narrative itself is strong and would bring up great discussions. It would be interesting to talk about the differences in the culture and the time period, along with the ideas of beauty and wealth.
I can already picture lesson plans in my head! I love all the material that can be used in this book!
Honestly, I know this isn’t a YA book, but I can see readers of all ages enjoy this. It’s not a hard read…however, it is long. It is textually rich and filled with plot. I would say the minimum age for the best comprehension would be 12 and up, and that’s also if the 12 year old is an advanced reader. If not, then at least 14 so the reader can follow all the developments as the story spans years and every bit is important to the story. Fortunately, there’s nothing at ALL inappropriate so for this book, age is less important than reading level.
I’m actually not surprised that some classify this book as YA. When I go into reading an adult book, I ready myself for a different kind of “tone” to the book. This book did not have that tone. I can’t describe it. I’m just in love with this story!
If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a big fan of The Bear and the Nightingale. I added it to my favorited shelf. I even began to tear up at a certain part…which I won’t go into because it would be a major spoiler. I loved the whole book and never got bored, therefore I give this book ★★★★★, or…