Published by Del Rey Books on January 10th 2017
A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.
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.
As you will see in pretty much every review of this book, the writing style is fantastic. Very atmospheric. It really makes you feel the cold, the magic, the hardships…I have no complaints about the overall writing style. Especially once the story got going, I was completely and totally sucked in.
Vasya is a great heroine. I didn’t care for her at the beginning (to be honest I didn’t care for much about this book at the beginning, but I’ll get into to that below), but as she got older and more aware of the magic she seemed to solely possess, I liked her more and more. She’s daring, but not in an obnoxious way. She’s not beautiful, but Morozko, the frost-demon seems a bit enchanted with her (swooooooon). All of the household spirits that keep the house safe, tend the horses, etc. liked her because she took care of them. She talks to horses. She rides horses bareback.
I really enjoyed the dynamic between Vasya and her siblings. Even though Irina is Vasya’s stepsister (from a stepmother that essentially hates Vasya), Irina is pretty nice and cares about her sister. Alyosha, Vasya’s older brother, seems to love her dearly, even though the author made it pretty clear that women were second class citizens at this time. Her whole family knew there was something out of the ordinary about her, and even though it went against everything they believed about women, they kind of let her roam about.
I thought that Father Konstanin brought a very interesting dynamic. He is a monk who is essentially sent to Vasya’s home because he is gaining too much influence and the Grand Prince is worried that the people will follow him rather than the current monarch. Vasya’s stepmother is a religious fanatic; she can see all the house spirits that Vasya sees, but she believes them to be devils sent to torment her. There’s a convoluted triangle here (not of love, but a relationship nonetheless) that heightened the tension of the second half of the book in a delicious and mysterious way. I wasn’t sure if we were building a romance or if someone was going to get thrown in jail.
VASYA AND MOROZKO. I’m in love. More of them in the sequels, please and thank you. Definitely a spark of romance here, though not at all a focus. I want to know much, much more about Morozko’s past.
Unfortunately, it took me a million years to get through the first half of this book. It really felt like nothing much was happening. I was super close to marking it a “Did Not Finish” and moving on with my life, but thanks to the endless positive reviews, I kept going. Of course, I’m thrilled I did, because around halfway, this book turned into a true gem. Maybe I was just reading it at a bad time, and my attention span was super short. I’m hoping the sequels don’t have a similar first half slump.
Aside from that, this book was excellent. Magic, monsters, strong female characters, and the promise of much more to come in the future. An absolute delight.