Russia, Dark Fairytales and a Heavy Atmosphere: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Image result for the bear and the nightingale“Wild birds die in cages.” 

This book has been going around for a while. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. It’s set in Russia, during the middle ages, and it follows a girl named Vasya, as her father remarries and brings a new wife to the house, one that has a completely different way of handling the house than they are used to. I decided that it was time I finally picked this up, and I have to say I really loved it. My rating isn’t really reflective of that, but I’ll try to explain it.

I read this one as part of the Book Bum Club, which is run by the lovely Zuky over @ Book Bum. We have a different theme every month and this month’s theme was Beautiful Book Covers and this book is pretty in every possible edition! You should join us there!

folkloreThis book is embedded in Russian folk tales. The main focus of the story is the battle between the winter king Morozco and his brother The Bear. The fairytale aspects and creatures were so well done. The book had this whimsy to it and I loved meeting all the creatures or spirits that Vasya encounters throughout the book. Moreover, this feels really authentic. The Eastern Europe folktales and general atmosphere felt so real and genuine. It truly felt like the author did her job and researched and was well acquainted with the story she was trying to write. I really appreciated that. And it made the book that much better.

ordervschaosI really enjoyed reading a book immersed in eastern as opposed to western culture. Russian fairytales are darker, they have a completely different feel to them, and explore different themes in different ways. I really enjoyed how the main conflict here, the one between Morozco and The Bear is actually a battle between order and chaos, and how they sort of work together and tear each other apart. There’s also an exploration of old gods vs. Christianity, or the old traditions vs. the new, and I think that was very reflective of the time period and I love how the author used that to make this plot work. Truly remarkable. This novel is very smart and well crafted and it shows.

vasyathewitchI think Vasya was a fantastic main character. Again, the time period was perfect to set up a character like Vasya. She is wild and unruly, she has the sight (or magic), she doesn’t want to be contained by societal standards. She is a really strong character who has a lot of heart and I really enjoyed reading the book because of her. There’s also an exploration of the dynamic between her and other characters, like Morozco or Konstantin that is so well done. Konstantin and Morozco are two characters who are very compelling as well. They both have this sort of morally grey characterization that was really well written and intriguing and I really enjoyed that.

writingThe writing is very beautiful and lyrical, but more importantly, this book is written in a way that creates atmosphere. There’s something about the writing that completely reflects the folklore which is at the core of the story. It perfectly translates the harsh winter of Russia, Vasya’s spirit, the time period. The writing is done in a way that makes the story possible and I really loved that.

lowratingI gave this book 3.5 stars. And here’s why. Like I said, I really enjoyed this. However, it took me a whole month to finish this. The thing is – the atmosphere is so heavy. I didn’t have a lot of time to read, and this book requires you to be completely in it. Whenever I would stop reading, I would be immediately taken out of the story and then it would take me ages to get back into it. And I did not enjoy it until I was in the story. Once I did that, I had no issues, but since it did take ages, I was left feeling a bit frustrated. It may be due to the way I read this, but it did affect my enjoyment of the book.

finalthoughtsI absolutely think that this book was masterfully done. I think it’s smart and atmospheric and it’s just wonderful. I would only recommend reading it in big chunks, so you can be completely engrossed in the story. I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

Final rating: 3.5 stars

anythingtoshareAnd that’s the review! Hope you enjoyed this, and let me know if you have read this one and how you liked it! Would love to know!


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29 thoughts on “Russia, Dark Fairytales and a Heavy Atmosphere: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

  1. This is certainly one book in which you don’t want to leave or abandon at any point in time. When I fell into the story and the world, I couldn’t get out of it. It was amazing. Okay, the conflicts between the village’s beliefs and Christianity made me a little uncomfortable but it was a good uncomfortable (if that makes sense) because it made me look at it from a different perspective and question some of my own thoughts.

    The next thing is, I don’t know whether or not I want to read the sequel. I’ve heard it’s just as good or even better but that doesn’t persuade me to add it to my tbr.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think that’s crucial for enjoyment – not abandoning the world and just reading in big chuncks, because it has that kind of atmosphere. Yeah, I get that, it makes sense. I am definitely excited to read the sequels, especially since I feel we’ll get a lot more of the dynamic between Morozco and Vasya, which I really enjoyed 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe once the paperback comes out I’ll rethink and change my mind. It took me ages to pick up The Bear and the Nightingale so it wouldn’t surprise me if I ended up reading the second one really late after everyone else.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this book but I totally get what you mean about the heavy atmosphere. The sequel is a lot lighter and more action packed with less of a focus on fairytales, so I think you’ll enjoy it more. Honestly, they’re two very different novels. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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