I recently finished a book entitled “The Bear and The Nightengale” which I absolutely loved. This is a novel based on Russian Folklore and is a dark fairytale based on a variety of creatures, gods, and household spirits. The story takes place in the 14th century and follows Vasilisa Petronova, a spirited young girl who has the “Second Sight” as did he mother, who passed away when Vasya was born. The girl is a bit of a rebel and not one for following rules. She is also able to see a variety of household guardian spirits such as the Domovoi who helps clean the house and assist with the mending, spirits of the forest, and spirits of the stables.
Oh, she can also communicate with horses. People in the story regularly comment on her wildness, some villagers calling her a wood sprite, others a witch.
One day her father returns from Moscow with a new wife, Anna, who is extremely devout and strict. Anna forbids her family from honoring and providing offerings for the household spirits.
Once the people of the village stop making offerings to the spirits, bad things begin to happen: Crops fail, food sources dwindle, children of the village sicken and then die, and evil creatures of the forest begin to draw nearer.
Soon we learn that a beast, known as the bringer of storms, has awoken and is escaping from the control that his brother, Morozko, Lord of Winter has over him. Morozko is also referred to as “The Frost Demon.” Soon a battle will take place between the two brothers and Vasya has to call upon her innate gifts — gifts that she has hidden from everyone — in order to protect her family and her village from the newly awakened threat.
I found it fascinating to read Vasya’s interaction with the spirits and how she integrated herself more and more into their world. Vasya was badass! I loved the strong, bold, rebellious heroine and found myself falling in love with her more and more as the story progressed.
Headstrong, confident and a bit rebellious, I feel that she provides an excellent role model for young women. Though she wants to please her family and tries to do what’s “proper” for a young lady, she is also not big on rules and desires freedom above all else — freedom to be the person she is meant to be, which of course, create some major conflicts in the story. In so doing, this amazing character succeeds in outsmarting both men and demons. She did not allow anyone to harness her into a stifling domestic life typically required of a young noblewoman, nor put her behind the walls of a convent which was where those who didn’t “fit in” were sent — especially those who refused a life of subservience to a husband.
Another thing I liked was the world building — it was was amazing! I felt that the world that Ms. Arden created in this story was magical, captivating and compelling and also dark and dangerous. And the detail that went into the storytelling made it real for the reader — or at least it did for me. The prose is beautiful, incredibly imaginative with vivid descriptions, a truly magical plot and a huge array of interesting and complex characters. This was a perfect fairytale, complete with spirits, demons, a wicked stepmother, tensions between modern religion and the old gods, Russian History and even the walking dead.
Now I will warn you that the first half of the book is basically heavy world-building and backstory so there is not a whole lot of action that goes on. In fact, I almost bailed about 20% of the way in. I listened to this book on audiobook and I was about 2 hours in and I considered DNFing this book as not a lot was happening. However, I’m so happy that I stuck it out.
This bewitching novel was a pure joy to read. This is a captivating and haunting story, dark at times, humorous in others. This is a combination of a historical fiction, fairy tale, Russian mythology, Russian folklore and a coming of age story, and in my opinion, was exemplary storytelling. I really loved the otherworldly, fairytale aspect to it and found it enchanting in every way. I was completely and totally enthralled by this book. I’ve heard people refer to this book as a fairytale for grownups, which really nails it in my opinion. I’m also glad I read this in the middle of winter because this was a perfect winter read.
It was an enticing story with a complete and gratifying conclusion. I understand that there is a second book that continues this story, which I definitely will be reading. Recommended!