This year we're going to try something new that we hope will help us tackle our TBR piles and keep us motivated to complete our #RockMyTBR challenges. We're starting a new feature called Theme Thursdays this year! Each month, we'll review books from our respective TBRs that fit a theme we choose at the beginning of the month. January's theme is MAGIC!
The Bear and the Nightingale
Untitled Trilogy #1
Release: January 10, 2017
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.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
I'm going to be honest here. The first half of this book is slow and full of worldbuilding. That doesn't mean it wasn't gloriously good but it took me a bit to get into it. I will say that I knew I was going to love the story as soon as I finished chapter three. The writing is gorgeous and atmospheric and reminded me of Robin McKinley's works which is one of the biggest compliments I can give a book. I loved that the story is full of Russian fairy tales! I was familiar with a few of them but not all of them. Reading this book, you can see that the author did her research and it made the story that much more amazing!
The story's main focus and character is Vasya, the youngest child of the minor nobleman, Pyotr Vladimirovich. She is a strange child who likes to spend all her days in the woods and is always getting into all sorts of mischief. This book isn't just the story of a girl with strange abilities, it's also about the rise of Christianity in Rus and how it starts pushing out the country's pagan beliefs. There are many households in Vasya's village who both pray to God and make offerings to the household spirits until a priest comes and tells them there is only God and no such thing as spirits.
Soon after that the village starts to suffer terrible winters that don't let up. Vasya starts to realize that the fairy tales her nurse told her growing up may not be simply fairy tales. When darkness descends on the village, Vasya may be the only one with the power to stop it.
This book is magical and Vasya is an unlikely heroine in the vein of Agnieszka in Naomi Novik's Uprooted and Aerin from Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown and I fell in love with her almost immediately! That love just got bigger as the book progressed and we watched her grow into a young woman. I'm pretty sure I can't quantify how much I ended up loving her by the end of the book. She's like the heroines of my childhood reading and it made my reading experience even more lovely! I loved that Vasya continues to make offerings to the household spirits and befriends them even though it goes against her Stepmother's views of them being demons.
The overall storyline of the book is very subtle and the story feels more like historical fiction than fantasy in places. But there comes a point about halfway through the book where things start to pick up and the subtle plot that had been laid in the first part comes to light and the conflict becomes noticeable. IT WAS SO WELL DONE! I'm amazed at how everything came together. This is one of those books that I'll be able to reread over and over again and pick up new details every time. Also, the number of Russian fairy tales referenced in this book was amazing and I'm pretty sure I missed a bunch. I need more books that revolve around Russian folklore in my life!
Not only did I fall in love with the story and the atmosphere of this book, but I fell in love with so many of the characters besides Vasya. I want more of them! The book ends on a slight cliffhanger that will make you want for the next book in this series ASAP. This book is definitely going to be one of my favorites of the year which makes Katherine Arden a debut author you don't want to miss! She has gained a place on my auto-buy list after just one book if that tells you how much I loved this story.
Recommended for fans of:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley.