“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives.”The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
When the nights get cold and the snow is high, fairy tales and folktales help make those long winter nights a bit easier. But no one gives the stories anymore thoughts than just bedtime story once the fires grow low. However, Vasilisa Petrovna, is a young girl who seems to be the only one in the village who knows that those stories are more than just stories. She is the only one who can see the magical beings from the tales.
Her town thinks her a witch for the things she does and the fact she spends more time in the woods than with people. The creatures that she has become friends with teach her things that normal people should not know. And Vasilisa struggles to find a balance between being normal and embracing who she really is.
But a different winter is swiftly approaching and the creatures are warning Vasilisa that a madness is coming with the frost and it brings death, she is at crossroads. Does she tell the people who already fear her that a danger is coming and risk being sent away or stoned to death? Or does she head off and face the danger alone and possibly never come back?
Fantasy, Young Adult, Fairy tale, Fiction, Mythology
Others in the Series:
Book 2: The Girl in the Tower
Book 3: The Winter of the Witch
Why This Rating?
This book had a mix of good and bad moments throughout the entire thing. I really enjoyed the fact that the Russia folktales – that have been passed down through the ages – were used as an inspiration for this book. By starting the book with the fire side storytelling, Katherine Arden was able to smoothly give her readers the history of the fairy tale that many people would have grown up with during the book’s time period. I know that were I am from Russian folktales are not something I am familiar with, so this inclusion really helped me relate. Then throughout the rest of the story you can see slight glimpses of those fairytales playing itself out with Arden’s personal twist to them. It was quite fun trying to find them while reading. I thought Arden’s continuation of the old tales were well done and appreciated that challenge the author took upon herself.
I was not the biggest fan of how some parts and people during the book seemed a bit extra. Such as, we got a lot of information and explanations for a few characters that, as an overall, were very minimal in the overall story. Like Vasilisa’s older sister and her beloved brother, both of these characters got a bunch of time in the beginning of the novel with a fairly interesting start to some character building I thought. Then nothing. They were used as quick name drop moments that helped to get other characters to and from the village, but I felt like I was missing a bunch of possibilities from these two. If so much time was applied to them in the beginning then wouldn’t more of the plot would be for them as well? Perhaps we will see them more in the following two books?
Also, I don’t know if I was the only one with this, but the title of the book seemed a bit of an odd tie into the story as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I totally found and saw those to pieces within the story; however, out of Bear and Nightingale the bear is the only one that I would honestly say made the most sense as the title. The nightingale part doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal in this book. Perhaps that was just me glancing over the importance of that part, but it seemed fairly small considering everything else that happens during the story. I think that a title carries a lot of weight as to what is inside the cover for readers. The title can hold a lot of sway about what is interpreted to be more important to the story as a whole. The Bear, I totally get and completely understand why it is in the title. The Nightingale however? Perhaps a better pairing for the title would have been: The Winter or The Forest, maybe? But that is just me being picky.
I thought that this book was good especially when I listened to it through Audible (the voice actor did a fantastic job with the accent); however, I felt like it was lacking in the the overall story. The author focused a bunch on setting up the story for the future books in the series and much less on the events that would be solely for the first book. I also would have liked to have more conclusions to even just a few of the many hanging points Arden left us with. I’m sure if I had a bit more closure instead of more ‘setting up’ for future events, I would be more excited to pick up the next book in the series. That being said, the writing was well done and I enjoyed the descriptions Arden colored her book with. It really made me understand the unbearable winters the characters faced and the beauty of the springs they experienced. The magic that quietly coats the story is wonderfully done and was a pleasant change than having it right up in your face.
Time to get lost in the next story!