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Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic


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The Bear and the Nightingale -- Review

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Disclosure -- I obtained this book through loan from my local public library.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical romance, contemporary gothic romance, and assorted non-fiction.


Over the years and for various reasons, I've done a tiny bit of reading in both Russian history and Russian mythology, so I wasn't completely lost reading The Bear and the Nightingale.  That helped a lot, because I think someone completely unfamiliar with the various spirits -- the rusalka, the domovoi, and so on -- might have found those elements frustrating.  Russian names with their various diminutives can also be confusing.


And I seriously wish authors would put glossaries at the beginning of their books rather than at the end!  Or at least put a note at the beginning that the various words and phrases are explained . . . somewhere.  This is especially true when the real world history is less commonly familiar than, say, the French Revolution or even the Wars of the Roses.


The Bear and the Nightingale is set in a pseudo-mythical, pseudo-medieval Russia of sorts, but no real dates are given.  Other than the names of a few "grand princes" -- who would later be more or less the equivalent of the tsars -- there are no concrete clues as to the time period to help the reader get her bearings.  Again those notes are at the end of the book, by which time it's too late to clear up the reader's possible confusion.


Are we just supposed to sneak a peek at the end to see if there are notes?  What about those of us who don't want to be accidentally spoilered?


Okay, those are the negatives.


I enjoyed the story and the characters, even though for the most part they were frustrating.  Frustrating in a good way, in that I wanted things to work out for them even while I understood how their struggles were building.


Vasilisa is the daughter of a well-to-do landowner -- not quite a noble -- and a slightly mystical woman who dies giving birth to her.  She grows up with several older siblings, and her devoted nurse Dunya.  Vasilisa is nominally Christian, as they all are, but she has her mother's magic and ties to the old religion of house and woodland and water spirits.


As she approaches maturity, Vasilisa is brought into contact with Morozko, the Frost Demon.  There are of course dangers in this relationship, but Morozko also seems to be the only one who knows what Vasilisa really is.  He hasn't revealed all that information, not to her and not to the reader, by the time this volume of the saga comes to an end.  I guess there's more in The Girl in the Tower, the next book in the series.


The writing is wonderful.  After reading so many poorly written Kindle freebies, I was ready for some fine composition, and Arden didn't disappoint.  I'm not sure exactly when I'll get around to it, but the book is due back at the library next Wednesday, so I'd better hurry!