At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
While The Bear and the Nightingale takes readers on a slow journey, each detail and description helps the story come to life as we follow the growth and adventure of Vasilisa Petrovna, or Vasya. Raised in the woods of Russia, called Lesnaya Zemlya, Vasya lives with her four other siblings, widowed father, and nursemaid, Dunya, who starts the book off telling a story. Stories and fairy tales play a large role in the book, as Vasya discovers how intermingled her world is with these seemingly inconsequential stories and how much of an impact they will have on her family and village. The Bear and the Nightingale is very character-focused on Vasya, her impudence and wildness, and the lengths she would take to save the people she love, even as they doubt her. Continue reading “ARC Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden”