I won a copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by Jo’s Book Blog, and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner! Oh, I loved it, The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderful, magical book.
Beware the evil in the woods. . .
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. . .
I have a real love of atmospheric books at the moment, I’m not specific to any one atmosphere, it just has to be all encompassing, so strong it almost becomes a physical thing, like a blanket, and I can just wrap it around myself. So you probably figured, The Bear in the Nightingale is one hell of an atmospheric read; it has an enchanting, otherworldly atmosphere, and I loved every minute of it. Strengthened by the cold climate, those freezing winter nights, and a folktale or two, this is a wonderfully literary novel that you can immerse yourself in. The incorporation of certain Russian words was absolutely the right move, it not only added to the atmosphere, but it cemented in your mind the location of the novel. There is a glossary at the end of the book to look up any words you’re unsure of.
This novel has some amazing characters, those to love and those to hate. Vasya is a great protagonist, she’s fierce with a fire in her heart that cannot be tamed – you get this feeling that she belongs outside, she’s wild like the landscape, and needs to be free to explore it. She doesn’t fear the house spirits, nor the demons, but the people of the village cannot see them, and would think her mad if she spoke of their existence. Vasya is a character you root for, unlike her stepmother, Anna. Now, there’s a character to hate, in a good way, in a way that her character is so well written it evokes feeling in you, it’s just feelings of immense dislike, which I love because it’s a fail if you’re indifferent to main characters.
The Winter King was another fantastic character, one who really surprised me, and I hope to see more from his character in the future. I’m avoiding going into any detail because I read this book having only read the synopsis above, and it allowed for so many elements of wonder and surprise. But I will say, there’s an exploration of family relationships, duty vs destiny, hidden agendas, villains, and morally grey characters. If you have any knowledge of Russian folklore and fairy tales, you may get even more out of this novel than I did. I just loved the magical forest, the blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy was seamless, the storytelling was effortless, but also such that you cannot predict where this story is going, or what will happened next.
The Bear and the Nightingale is beautifully written, lyrical, a fantasy novel steeped in superstition, rich in detail – I absolutely recommend it.