Book review: The Bear and the Nightingale

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“But seasons turn and seasons change

The Wind blows from the south

The fires cone, the storms, the spears

The sorrow and the dark”

The caption of the novel says ‘Beware the evil in the woods’ and aptly so. Katherine Arden’s story, The Bear and the Nightingale is based on the Russian fairy tale of the frost-demon, the winter-king Karachun or better known as Morozko, the demon of winter. When the story starts, Pyotr Vladimirovich’s household is a happy one with his wife, four children and an old nurse, Dunya. But by the time winter comes, his wife Marina has died in childbirth leaving a daughter, Vasilisa, fondly called Vasya, in Pyotr and Dunya’s arms making them promise to protect her.

Vasilisa grows up to be a brash girl with no inclination towards household works and a penchant for horse riding and weapons. While she struggles with the fixed roles of women in the society, she also feels the presence of magical creatures around her. With time, her father remarries and Vasya’s stepmother can also see the creatures but she thinks of them as demons and is always scared. The creatures or the house sprites protect the houses and animals from the dead. Soon after Pyotr remarries, a new priest comes to the village, Father Konstantin and he is waylaid by a demonic power and he forbids the people from feeding the sprites thereby weakening the protection around them. And the dead attack along with the Bear and it is left upon Vasya to fight them alone with her stepmother and Father Konstantin hindering her path at every step.

Set in medieval Russia the book is full of magic and mystery. The characters are brilliantly developed and the fantastical world will have you crave for more. The book will hold on to you from the first page to the last leaving you enchanted. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to reach me for I want to dive into Katherine Arden’s magical world once again.

My rating: 5/5

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