The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: 

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. 

I’m a huge fan of Russian literature but I’ve read any Russian folklore before so I was interested to see what I’d think of this book. I’d heard some really persuasive reviews and I finally decided I couldn’t put it off anymore.

From the first few pages I was hooked on Arden’s writing which so perfectly evoked the small Russian village community she was writing about. I felt myself completely there, feeling the biting cold of the wind and snow of their bitter winters and the creeping fear of the shadowy demons as they appeared.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a perfect mix of historical fiction, fantasy and fairytale. The story flows beautifully, even though it’s a fairly slow burning story as the first in a trilogy of books. The introduction of the characters is masterful, the Russian folklore mixing with the slow creeping danger of the village men and Konstantin the priest who are so distrustful of Vasya’s strength and vivacity as a woman ahead of her time who has no intention of doing as she is told.

I just couldn’t get enough of the rich Russian folklore or the wonderfully fierce character of Vasya, from young child to young woman.

I can’t wait to continue with Vasya’s story and immerse myself back into the wonderful atmospheric tale Arden is weaving.

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recieved an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I’ve never read anything by Sally Green before, but within the first chapter I knew I was going to love this book. It is a strong contender for my favourite book of 2018 and it’s definitely become one of my favourite series. I can’t wait for the next installment.

The Smoke Thieves is a high fantasy book with the chapters alternating between the points of view of each of the main characters. This style is very reminiscent of Game of Thrones but it’s much less of a slog to get through and remember who everyone is. I found myself invested in each of the characters and every time the POV switched I was excited to see how their story was going to develop or what had happened to them in the time between each chapter.

This book is set across three kingdoms and each one is fantastically built and unique, jostling for power and dominance and attempting to make unions to further their own paths.

My favourite character arcs were Tash and Gravell and their squabbly father-daughter type relationship as they illegally hunt demons for their smoke, and Princess Catherine. Catherine’s arc was probably the one which had the most development, and the most potiential for further development in the coming books. She starts the book as a child being effectively traded by her father for the good of the kingdom and she ends up becoming a leader. I liked the romance between her and Ambrose but personally I’m rooting for her to end up with the Prince.

I think it’s worth warning you not to get too attached to the characters in this series as at least once in this book my heart was broken and with the war in full swing I foresee this only getting worse.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series but in the meantime I’ve been to the library to get my hands on some more Sally Green books!

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