If you have been looking for the perfect book to read while curling up with a blanket, I’ve got you covered!
I was lucky to receive a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden*, a beautiful novel inspired by Russian myth and full of magic, demons and deep winter. The Bear and the Nightingale is the story of Vasilisa, a wild and mysterious Russian girl who lives at the edge of the forest. She likes to feed the house spirits, speak with horses and swim with a water demon, so it’s not a surprise when people start accusing her of being a witch. She also tries to save her family, and the whole village, from Winter itself.
*Many thanks to Random House for sending me a copy of this book!
- It’s truly beautiful. I don’t know how else to sum it up. The whole story feels like it’s being told by an old nanny who wants to capture children’s attention but also scare them a little. I loved the balance between reality and fantasy, the direct interactions with magical creatures felt like taken from the old myths, while the rest of the story was a depiction of real life medieval Russian villages.
- Strong Characters. Vasilisa is a likable, relatable and wild protagonist. But above all, she has a strong personality and she EARNS IT. Have you ever read a supposedly strong character saying things like “I could kill you in twelve different ways with just a spoon”? But you never get to see them doing something like that! You just have to trust whatever bad-ass thing they say because you don’t know their background. Well, I think Vasilisa actually deserves her bad-ass status because she sacrifices a lot to get what she gets. This book shows the real price of being ‘special’: hard work, sacrifice and making difficult decisions.
- The demons. This is a kind of fantastic creature that I don’t see very often. It doesn’t have dragons, elves or goblins, but the common household spirits that supposedly took care of one’s home in exchange of bread and milk.
- It took me a long time to finish it. This is not the book’s fault, though! I just think that this was a very comfy read and I really wanted to stay in bed all morning to finish it, but I couldn’t. The reason is: I don’t usually read Russian literature / stories with so many Russian words. I found it kind of difficult to find a nice reading rhythm because I kept getting confused with some words or names. For example, a character introduced as Vasilisa would be called Vasya by one character or Vasochka by another, or Devochka (little girl) or Devushka (young woman). It’s not very difficult to follow the name changes since there aren’t that many characters, it just took me a couple of hours to get used to the name variations (and to discover the glossary at the end!). Again, this is not the book’s fault! I actually liked and appreciated the effort of the author and her approach to transliteration.
- You are interested in Russian folktales / myths
- You want to read a grim fairy tale retelling
- You want to start reading Russian literature but are intimidated
- You are looking for a winter story full of monsters and magic
- You like strong and mystical heroines