The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale

A Novel

Book - 2017
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JCLLaurelA Jun 09, 2021

I'm not sure how to review this book, but I loved it! Strong characters and wonderful world building make a great opening of a trilogy. This story takes place in Old Russia, when the Rusalka, the Domovoi, the Leshy, and others are the spirits of the house and the woods. Christianity is slowly moving across Russia, and when faith in one religion grows, faith in the other shrinks. What happens when the faith that has been protecting you for centuries starts to fade? Vasilisa has the True Sight; she can see the creatures that others cannot, so she must be the one to protect her family when The Bear starts to break free of his bonds. When her choices as a woman of that time are either Marriage or the Convent, what can a girl who's determined to have neither do?

Feb 21, 2021

I loved the first 2/3 of the story despite the relentless religious preaching and harassment. I could feel something big was going to happen. Good fairy tales invite the reader to playfully suspend disbelief. But my suspension was stretched until it shattered as the story approached its conclusion.

Jan 29, 2021

I’m so glad I stumbled upon this book because I loved it!! I haven’t read a fairy tale in a really long time, and it was such a treat to dive back into that genre with a book so beautifully written. The intertwining of Russian language, culture, and stories made me nostalgic for my own Eastern European heritage and the time I spent there. I can’t wait to read the next books in the series!

LoganLib_Sheridan Jan 17, 2021

I don't know why but I have a weird soft spot for Russian folklore. This one is definitely a feminist take. Despite women having literally two choices in life (the home or the nunnery) this story manages to empower the protagonist and still have the femininity.

The priest lusts after Vasya but this too is feminist as he sees it as a weakness and controls it. This is also part of his toxic masculinity as he wants to rid her of her demons and make her a 'proper' woman. He doesn't necessarily want her under HIS power but he wants her under SOMEONES power.

I like the inclusion of horses as allies and Vasya's ability to understand them.

There is also the difference between Vasya and Anna. They both see the old gods but Anna thinks they are demons and wants to be rid of them to the detriment of her mental health. Vasya listens and becomes stronger for it.

I like the relationship between Vasya and the winter god. Give me an enigmatic all-powerful being whose seeking the help of a mortal woman he can't resist and I'm hooked. Add a mystical horse that is not exactly a horse and well... I was already won over okay!

The way Alyosha looks after Vasya is also loveable. He wants to help and protect his sister and he sees how everyone around her treats her and what they think of her. He's still on her side. To be fair I think all her family is but they aren't all there or able to do something.

Jan 02, 2021

This was a fun read. Many fantasy novels for adults are rote and predictable and lean too much on either darkness or sex. The mirrored Russian mythology was a nice touch. What an adventure!

Nov 27, 2020

An elegantly woven first instalment of the Winternight Trilogy set in the frigid wilderness of Russian. Follow the strong heroine Vasilisa as her village struggles with continuing to honour the cultural mythology of their past or following the church.

PimaLib_JanaB Oct 15, 2020

I want to review the whole series here because I stayed up way too late last night finishing it. This is mytho-historical fiction set in late 1300's Russia.

In a land of opposite extremes, Vasilisa Petrovna is always on the wrong side. She is pagan in the land of the Russian Orthodox Church. She is a woman in a male dominated society. She is a believer in the ancient ways who lives in a world longing to be modern. Vasya fears the land she loves is dying with the relentless march of time.

Vasya sees and nourishes the pagan nature spirits around her. Vasya's stepmother also sees these spirits, but she fears and hates them as demons. Vasya fights to keep the old gods from fading in the new world, but the evil around her in both the Christian church and her own spiteful deities forces her to shed her innocence and become a powerful woman in a time where such a person is not supposed to exist.

The prose is magical in the way it weaves this world around the reader. The author's note at the end states that some of the characters and events are factual, which only added to the enchantment for me. I finished this series 12 hours ago, and I already want to reread it.

LCPL_Krystyna Oct 07, 2020

A beautifully written fantasy set in medieval Russia, based on Russian folklore. It’s told in a whimsical, fairy-tale-like tone, with a very rich atmosphere. A great beginning to an amazing series. Recommended for fans of lyrical prose, magical realism, and atmospheric stories.

ArapahoePaige Jul 20, 2020

Vasilisa lives on the edge of a Russian forest in a place where mythic folk thrive until her father brings home a new wife, one who doesn’t believe in the fairy creatures. Vasilisa lives in a time of change, loves someone who shouldn’t exist and fights to save her family. Love this trilogy!

Jul 17, 2020

Excellent 1st book, love me some Russian tales, excellent fairy tale😉

Jul 14, 2020

Surprisingly wonderful! I was dubious at another fairytale setting but... the characters are strong and endearing, their plight moved me to tears, the adventure is exciting, the culture of Rus' takes me back to my earliest days of reading Baba Yaga stories. AND there are Zombies!! The series is nominated for a Hugo Award in 2020.

Jun 28, 2020

Beautiful written and incredibly story-telling. I felt fully immersed in the story of Vasya and the battles of new religion and the old faith.

Jun 08, 2020

Absolutely amazing book and trilogy! I did have some trouble reading it because of the different name variations in Russian culture but I found listening to the audiobooks helped.
After listening to this series I actually bought the books because I loved the story so much!
Highly Highly recommend to anyone and everyone!

Mar 31, 2020

This book flows really well even with all the different point of views and it just keeps you reading until you look up and realize that the sun has come back up and that the book is, unfortunately, finished. The Bear and the Nightingale takes place in a fantasy version of historical Russia and tells the story of Vasya and her family. It reads like a fairytale and is absolutely beautifully written. Vasya is a wild child with a touch of magic and a willingness to be brave. This is definitely a character driven story and if you love plot more, then this might not be the book for you.

Mar 20, 2020

PLOT: It is medieval Russia and a mother dies shortly after childbirth- finally getting the daughter she wanted- one that she knew would have the same magical gifts as her own mother once had. Gifts that were rumored to have been used to enchant the Grand Prince of Moscow himself. This wild child is Vasilisa Petrovna, beloved daughter to a Russian boyar (a land-holding Lord), sister to four siblings, and pain in the ass to devout step-mother Anna. Just as Vasya's mother had predicted, her daughter was gifted with magic- the ability to see and talk to spirits of the hearth, stables, and forest. Even as a child, young Vasya would bravely traverse into the forest without a care in the world, learning about plants, ponds, rivers, and the spirits that resided within. And thus she grows into a teenager who is willful, playful, and spirited. She is not like her sister Olga, who wishes to be married and have children. Vasya is at home in the forest, and sees herself as friend of the spirits around her. One day, a young, attractive, and ambitious priest (batyushka) arrives in her small village of Lesnaya Zemlya and almost immediately is drawn (obsessively) by the young and wild Vasilisa. The priest also finds that he is remarkably good at enrapturing the peasants around him- by preaching fear of God and promising hell to those who follow the old ways of Russia (offerings, etc. to household spirits).

Vasya's stepmother also sees spirits, but to the devout woman, they are demons. Already a nervous and emotional mess, she immediately develops an obsessive dislike for her youngest daughter as quickly as she begins to obsess over the priest (she keeps telling herself it's solely religious respect). Add to the mix Vasya's meeting of Medved, the Bear, spirit of chaos who is trapped in the grips of a great tree by his brother Morozko, death, or the Winter King, and trouble ensues. The Bear is nearing his time for freedom, Morozko's power is waning, and Vasya's fate is entwined with both the Bear and Winter King's destinies. As the dead start walking, the priest becomes increasingly obsessed, Anna calls for the convent life for Vasya to be rid of her, the crops start failing, and the Winter King beckons... well... V is in for a hell of a ride...

PROS: Everything. This story is intricate, with various points of view that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and told with such expertise that you will not want to put this book down. My plot line did not even mention all of the characters that play major roles and so does not scratch the surface of this deep and poignant tale. This novel is not just about the conflicts between Russia's old ways and the incoming Catholic faith, a story about a girl struggling to remain true to herself, impossible love, or the saving of an empire, it is a story that weaves all to create a masterpiece of a folklore-based novel.

CONS: None. Zero. Zilch. Just read it.

Feb 24, 2020

Between my childhood and early 20s, I read a decent amount of fantasy. Certainly the biggies - LOTR/The Hobbit, Earthsea, Narnia, Shannara, plus other less popular titles. But I got away from fantasy for the bulk of my adulthood, with the great exception of those books featuring that boy wizard and his friends. Daughter Victoria recommended this to me and frankly, I kept putting it off. Stupid me. I LOVED this book. A beautifully written story with many classic fairy tale elements -it kept me on the edge of my seat, breathless and dreamy all at once. It's the story of Vasila, a girl with many gifts that bring her to the attention of both evil and benevolent beings. Can't wait for the second and third installments.

The only reason this didn't get 5 stars from me is that Victoria assures me that the second book is even better, so I had to leave room for a higher rating! It wouldn't be surprising if I come back and change those little gold stars up there...

Jan 06, 2020

Though I really do not like Russian folklore ( I am Russian and read a lot of fairytales in my childhood), surprisingly, I greatly enjoyed all three books of the trilogy. The whole atmosphere felt very true and magic! I just believed it and enjoyed it- something that didn't happen when I tried to read Gentlemen in Moscow ( that felt fake and had zero Russian atmosphere). So , if you'd like to read something light and making you feel like a child, listening to a magical fairy tale, this is a great book!

Oct 26, 2019


Oct 18, 2019

A beautifully imagined combination of Russian folklore and historical fiction. This is the first book in an amazing trilogy that gets better with each novel; The Girl in the Tower followed by the heroic conclusion in The Winter of the Witch. Magnificent to read, even more impressive to listen to on audio.

JCLSamS Sep 18, 2019

There are so many things I enjoyed about this novel: the setting of a remote medieval Russian village, the emphasis on Russian folklore and the creatures that appear in those tales, the main character Vasya, who is fierce and wild, and the historical realism. Still, there was something missing in it for me that I can't completely place my finger on. I wasn't sold on the romance element in the story and something feels off about the pacing, making the story structure not quite fit. Still a worthwhile read and an original story.

Aug 12, 2019

This was such a great read!!! I HIGHLY recommend it!! Arden’s writing was luring, fantastical! The title of the novel is perfect and its chapter headings are appropriate. I also loved all the characters (and their names) - but most especially Dunya, Pyotr, Morozko, and (of course) Vasilisa. I thought that the novel had a good ending (left me satisfied), yet I still feel excited that there is a whole series ahead. Beautifully written fairy tale! I can’t believe this is Arden’s first book. Well done! A TRUE 5-STAR NOVEL!

CMLibrary_sally Jun 03, 2019

What a wonderful book!! Using literary tools from Russian fairy tales, the author creates a great book for modern readers. The main character is both a mystery and entertaining forcing you to seek out the other books in the trilogy!

Jun 01, 2019

Most of the books I’ve read recently have been just okay, but nothing that truly gripped my attention and only let go long after the book was finished. Some were definitely page-turners, but the characters were lackluster, the writing choppy and bland, the setting overused. This book changed that. It has everything I like in books: atmospheric writing that doesn’t fall into purple prose, unusual and fascinating setting, magic, folklore, and mysterious characters. All of the characters had understandable motivations, even the not-very-likable ones. Vasilisa was a captivating and lovable heroine who I can’t wait to read more about, although my favorite character was probably Morozko, the frost-demon. I also liked the strong feminist themes. Altogether a great book, 10/10 would recommend!

May 26, 2019

I felt like a kid again with this book (In a good way). Initially it truly feels like a fairy tale and creates that sense of wonder.

The writing is beautiful and among other things does a great job evoking harsh Russian winters, the lurking fears of the family and townspeople, and the personalities of the characters and what drives them. It's a world you can readily get lost in.

The plot is a very slow burn. It`s fairly clear what events are leading towards for most of the book so it was frustrating to only get a very small slice of quick resolution at the end. However I think that is highly subject to personal preference. The rest of the book does a good job gradually heightening the tension and terror. It was done well, I just got a little impatient with it.

I loved the heavy use of Russian folklore and culture. The author must have struck pretty closely to naming traditions because there were variations on each characters name depending on the way someone else was talking to them. This was initially a little confusing but more because of not having seen anything like it before. It`s obvious who is being spoken to though.
Also...they`re pretty hard on Christians in this book. Not unfairly I thought. I enjoyed the theme of old traditions versus new ones. If you`re easily put off though you probably won`t like it!

May 25, 2019

I just picked up The Girl in the Tower. Can't wait to know what happens next.

"Now hear me. Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing, and weep for a nightingale."

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