The first in a new trilogy set in medieval Rus’, The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of Vasilisa Petrovna growing up in the northern forests with the ability to see the spirits and creatures that others believe to be only fairy tales. Conflict arises between Vasya (a pet name) and her new, devout stepmother, Anna, who refuses to follow the old pagan customs from the fairy tales Vasya loves and knows to be real.
Arden does an excellent job bringing to life the world that Vasya lives in, her family’s home, and the woods around it. The descriptions of cold, dark winters that (mostly) remain cozy by the fire make this a good read for the winter. The use of folklore is masterful and rich and is really what drew me into the story. Like most fairytales, the story has a slow build to the exciting finish that might have been off-putting if Arden’s landscape and characters had been poorly drawn, but for this reader, it was okay because I enjoyed taking the time to settle into the world before things went topsy-turvy. The pacing may also have to do with this being the first in a trilogy, and Arden needing to set the stage for future events beyond this volume.
As for what didn’t work: there are frequent shifts in the point of view that sometimes feel jarring or unnecessary–it seems like the same effect could have been had with a more distant narrator throughout the whole, instead of jumping closer to one character or another. I was also aware that a reader not familiar with Russian pet names might be confused at first by the way that each character is called several different versions of their name throughout the story.
For fans of fairy tales and folklore, and forest creatures both mysterious and terrifying, The Bear in the Nightingale is an enjoyable read. Arden’s prose is enjoyable, and her research is carefully done. I look forward to reading the future books in this trilogy, and enjoying more of Vasya’s story.
The Bear and the Nightingale was released on January 10th. Thanks to Netgalley for the e-galley to review. You can find your own copy through IndieBound, or at your local library!