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Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #1)

The Bear and the Nightingale had been on my TBR shelf for far too long but with the final book in the Winternight Trilogy out last month, I decided to spend some of my winter nights reading all three books. Here’s what the first one is about:

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, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods. . .

The Bear and the Nightingale is a coming of age tale with a difference and a gorgeous retelling of a Russian fairytale.

Katherine Arden brings medieval Northern Rus’ alive in this, the first book in her Winternight trilogy. So much so that I felt as if I lived through the seasons with Vasilisa (aka Vasya) Petrovna, whether she was running wild through the forest and discovering mysterious creatures alongside new talents of her own, or listening to the old family nurse telling them folktales around the oven in winter. And winters here are of the harshest kind: where the bitter cold and hunger test even Vasya’s family, despite her father being the boyar, or local lord.

Rus’ is in a state of flux: the demons, spirits, nymphs and guardians of folklore are losing their hold on people as orthodox religion widens its reach. And when one priest, newly-arrived from Moscow, embarks upon what feels like a very personal vendetta, it promises to be a dangerous time for anyone who still communes with those traditional spirit-guardians.

Vasya is a terrific character: she’s a wild and spirited tomboy straining against the limitations and expectations of becoming a woman in her society. I really felt for her as she struggles to find a way through where she stays true to herself yet doesn’t alienate her family. You come to understand her need for more freedom and independence than society allows her and wonder how she will ever find her place in the world. I’m looking forward to following her through the next two books and seeing where her unusual gifts take her in what promises to be an exciting and magical deep winter trilogy.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is the first book in the Winternight Trilogy. It is published in the UK by Del Rey, an Ebury Publishing and Penguin Random House imprint here in the UK. I received a free copy of the hardback as part of the Amazon Vine programme and my review is here on the site. The beautiful hardback edition I received is sadly no longer available but it is out as an audiobook, ebook and in paperback. You can buy it from Amazon UK or Hive where purchases support your local independent bookshop. 

For more on Katherine Arden and her books, check out her Author Website, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Katherine Arden is coming to the UK at the end of next month on The Winter of the Witch (Winternight #3) tour and you can find all the dates below. 

Comments

Susan Holder
Reply

Gosh this sounds fab – I hadn’t heard of this trilogy until your review but will definitely be reading it. Might try going to the Bath event at Mr B’s if you fancy it.
Thanks for the great review!

kath
Reply

Thanks, Susan. I think you’d love this series. I’m only sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it, but at least that meant I could read all the books close together. I’ve got my ticket for the Bath event, so yes, it’d be lovely to go together!

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