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.