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Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale

A young woman's family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, wilful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.

My review of The Bear and the Nightingale
I shall start this review by saying that this book is utterly beautiful, from the stunning cover right through to the final page. It is a magical fairy tale for adults. As someone who adores fairly tales, this was the perfect book for me. I found it to be pure escapism, and that while reading it, the outside world was forgotten, just for a little while.
The Bear and the Nightingale is set predominantly in a small Russian village named Rusin during the depths of Winter. At first we are introduced to the elderly servant and nanny of the Ivanova family, Dunya, who is reciting exciting fairy tales to the children of the family as they sit huddled around the large oven in the kitchen. She tells the fairy tale of Morozko, the Frost Demon, who is both kind and cruel. The children sat listening, enchanted, as was I, and I found this opening to be a beautiful setting for the book.  I will admit that I know very little about Russian literature and Russian fairy tales, and thought that this may impinge upon my enjoyment of the story, but this was not the case. So do not be put off, if like me, you have very little knowledge of the Russian literary world.

This book has a very slow build up, and indeed it is a book to be savoured slowly, it envelops you in a giant, warm hug. But the beginning introduces us to the Ivanova family, husband Pyotr and his wife, Marina. It is through reading these early chapters that we learn that Marina is expecting another child and that through ill health, the child will sadly be her last. She tells Pyotr that the baby girl she will have is very special. This little girl is Vasya, and the story revolves around her. It is a magical story that blends traditional Russian myths and folklore, with fantastical fairy tales, that surprisingly create a grounded and utterly believable story.

Vasya is a fascinating character, who as a child is wild and will not follow the rules. I loved her. She prefers to run in the forest and to climb trees. This is one of the many reasons that her father decides to remarry, so that his daughter will once again have a mother figure. This is the point in the story that we are introduced to Anna, the story's very own wicked stepmother. However, I actually empathised with her, as she was a girl when she was married, pretty much against her will, instead of living her preferred life in a convent.

Another character who also fascinated  me was the colourful character of the Priest, Konstantin, who is brought to the village in its time of need.  He is the one character that I should have loathed, but I did not; instead I was very drawn to him. He is most defiantly a man of self righteousness and self importance, but at times his vulnerability shone through.

I will be honest and say that this book is not an easy armchair read, it does take a little time to get used to the distinctive narrative style and the use of fantastical, mythical creatures that are dominant throughout, and which are pivotal to the story. But, you will soon embrace this magical world and find yourself never wanting to leave.

The Bear and the Nightingale is published by Random House UK, Ebury Publishing on January 12 2017. With thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a review copy.

It is available for pre order from Amazon here

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