Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My Review: 4/5 Stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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 loved 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 crepe 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 all 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 just frightening tales.

My Thoughts:

I thought this would be a perfect book to officially kick off the holiday season, and I was right! The Bear and the Nightingale (TBATN) is a marvelous fantasy read. Vasilisa is a great heroine, willing to sacrifice everything for her family. I’m also glad that Katherine Arden does not gloss over the limited options for women during this time period. Outside of marriage, there was convent life. Consistently referred to as the “fate of women,” Arden makes it clear that not all situations are equal, and there is rarely a best option.

I enjoyed the array of well-developed characters in TBATN. Arden does a great job of showcasing each of the main character’s actions and, more importantly, their reasoning behind their actions. Many of the characters are working towards the same goal, albeit through very different means, and Arden does not shy away from exploring complicated emotions. I particularly enjoyed the parallels and foil between Vasilisa and her stepmother as they each try to make the best of a complicated situation. Father Konstantin reminded me a lot of Frodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and WOW, what a parallel. He is simultaneously well intentioned and misguided and it makes for an interesting character journey.

From a plot standpoint, TBATN was exactly what I expected. Nothing in this book really surprised me and if you’re paying attention, which you should be, readers will guess the ending fairly early on in the story. But I also enjoyed this predictability, and I think this played to the book’s favor. With a familiar plot, readers can focus more on the worldbuilding and characters, which were ultimately my favorite elements of this book.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! The sequel, The Girl in the Tower, continues with Vasilisa and is out December 5. These would make great winter reads and excellent holiday gifts. I highly recommend this book for any Game of Thrones fans or for anyone who enjoys the classic 90s Disney movies, particularly Beauty and the Beast or The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

This book is…


character driven

based on fairytales and folklore



Publisher: Del Rey Books

Genre: fantasy

Page Count: 322

ISBN: 1101885939

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? What’s your favorite fantasy read?

I am an affiliate with Book Depository and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

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