Published: 26th January 2017
Genre: Fantasy, Historical
A young woman's family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.
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, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain,intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, willfull girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.
Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.
When I first heard about this book I was utterly enchanted by the premise of it. It was actually sold to me because someone at the publishers said it reminded them of The Tale of Two Brothers from The Deathly Hallows. Do I agree with that analysis? I can’t completely remember it but it does seem apt, as do the comparisons in the summary. It does have elements from Uprooted and The Night Circus but only in the sense that it has magical writing which will enchant you. It’s a book I’ve been thinking on and it’s utterly magical and enchanting and it even has a bit of history in it too!
Let’s Talk Charming and Enchanting
This is a fantasy book which is grounded in the real world and history and it’s all based on Slavic mythology. There is a disclaimer at the beginning about Arden playing a bit fast and loose with translations (there isn’t continuity with how her translations are done) and she has taken a bit of artistic license with Russian history (she admits that Prince Vladimir Andreevich was actually a few years younger than Dmitrii Ivanovich but she switched and made him older instead) but this is mostly due to it being a poorly documented period in history so she was able to make these liberties. The fact she put this disclaimer at the beginning of the book (at least in the version I read) was great because I like to know not to expect everything at face value.
Really, this book can most closely be compared to Daughter of the Forest for me as it is set in the past in a period of history people may not know well and it draws on the areas own mythology to create the world. The way Vasya grew up wild with a large collection of brothers and how she was so closely connected with nature just instantly reminded me of that book. For many that would be a drawback, I mean that is the pinnacle of well-done fantasy, but for me, this was a good thing. For a new book to remind me so much of a classic was excellent because it never felt like it was copying it, instead, it was a coincidence. It was simply as well written and researched as that and you could feel that in the writing.
And the fantasy elements of this book were amazing. I know nothing of Slavic mythology but I recognised things like Baba Yaga but the actual folk tales in the book were new to me. As were things like banniks, domovoi and leshy. This characters of folktales were brought to life and introduced to me in such an interesting way. I was hooked with how they were described and explained and I loved how it seemed genuine. I won’t spoil how they are featured in the book but I did love the originality of it.
What About Problems?
Look, this book wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for me. I had some serious doubts when I first began reading. This book is one I was actually reading for far longer than my Goodreads dates shows. I began reading during a book slump (bad plan, I know) hoping to end the slump. Instead, the slow pacing at the beginning of this actually made me doubt myself. Add in the fact that the POV switches a lot throughout the book which led to me feeling a little disconnected from the characters to start off and I thought I was in with a recipe for disaster. I struggled and it was about two weeks before I got into the story. It wasn’t until I was 20% in on Sunday that I was hooked and then I sped through it Sunday night just having to finish.
Once you’re hooked you’re a goner, but getting that point was hard. The story was slow, I couldn’t see the fantasy elements I had been promised and I seriously didn’t get why I should care about any of these characters. I mean, at all. To say me and this book began badly is an understatement. I got there, though. And when I did it was love.
So Was It Good Or Bad?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and I have to say, even with the slow start and the fact I was confused and distant from the characters for a good long time I’ve still got to say it was amazing. Like, really good. The fact this book chose to spend a long time setting the scene and doing some world building isn’t a bad thing, especially as it was a culture and a history I knew little about so I needed the explanation. I adored Vasya and her rebellious nature and the fact good and evil were so closely intertwined and all came down to small decisions by characters which affected their path. I liked the introduction to new mythology and history and I liked the whole rural Russian world we were introduced to. I would happily buy this for friends and family and I wouldn’t feel bad recommending because I know what to warn folks about but know also that if they can make it through the slow start they will be rewarded with a really good book.
How do you feel about books which begin slowly and build into a fantastic ending? Are the endings worth the poor beginning? And have you read this book? Do you agree with my thoughts?