The Bear and the Nightingale

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Katherine Arden
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Read: Nov. 2017


Well this was disappointing.

I have mixed feelings about how to rate it because the writing really was quite good and Arden created a very good sense of atmosphere in the novel. But the story just dragged on and on!

I found it hard to get into the plot and honestly for the first third of the novel I didn’t even really know what the plot was. The Bear and the Nightingale is set in this medieval version of Russia and focuses on the life of a young girl, Vasya, growing up in cold, northern, Rus. The story begins with her mother dying in childbirth and her nurse plying her with stories and fairytales about the spirits of the village.

The villagers believe in a number of different spirits – which I initially found very confusing because Arden never really explains them – and they leave gifts and sacrifices to the spirits in exchange for the protection of their village. Vasya is special because she can actually see the spirits – no one else can, they just trust in their existence.

The story finally gets going when the priest Konstantin shows up in the village and sees it as his task to convert the entire village to Christianity and save them from the demons. Vasya attends church out of duty, but continues to keep the old ways and Konstantin becomes determined to “save” her.

I did find the conflict between Konstantin and Vasya (Christianity and the old ways) interesting and very reminiscent of how colonizers and missionaries were determined to convert colonies to their ways and beliefs. But overall the story just felt too disjointed for me. Arden provided way too much background on Vasya’s childhood and I found the whole bear and winter-demon thing really confusing. Maybe I just didn’t get it, but I need some more context about where the bear came from and why the hell he cares about Vasya. It just all felt very contrived and too easily resolved at the end.

Overall I just thought it was weird and I never really got into it. A+ for the cover art, but I may take a pass on the rest of this series.

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