I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Bear and the Nightingale Published by Del Ray on 01/10/2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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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.
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
This was a enjoyable read; lush and atmospheric. It took me a while to get into it, but once things really start happening you find yourself swept away with the story. One thing though, this novel is definitely not meant to be read in one burst, it works best to savor this book in little pieces as you go along.
I loved the main character, Vasilisa Petrovna – her fierceness, her stubbornness, her love and loyalty to her family and the world around her. The different familial relationships were all complicated, interesting, and (at times) rather lovely. I loved how nuanced the characters were – they were not wholly evil or wholly good; they had facets of both good and bad, as we all do.
The Russian folklore interspersed throughout the novel was very interesting and, in my opinion, well done. I really enjoyed learning more (although I do acknowledge this is a fictional novel and not a historical text) about 14th century Russia and the customs and traditions that the families lived by.
All in all, this is definitely a novel worth picking up if you’re looking for a mesmerizing and enchanting read!