Format: Paperback, 430 pages
Published: 5th October 2017 by Del Rey
Genres: Fantasy, historical fiction, fairy tales
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
So, this book was bought for me as a gift. And what a GREAT gift it was. I’ll explain in this review exactly why this book was perfect for me, and why you should read it too.
Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.
So, I’m a Psychology student, and something that we have touched on in class is the concept of a “collective unconscious”. This is basically a part of the unconscious mind that is shared with pretty much everyone in any given circle. Arguably, folk stories, fairy tales – these all contribute to the collective unconscious. If you spoke to any random person in the streets of Britain and started talking to them about, say, Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, they would know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re on the same wavelength. Magical stories like The Bear and the Nightingale also contribute to the collective unconscious, by weaving together beloved Russian folk stories to make the most magnificent fantasy novel.
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
The only thing that tops a fairy tale for me, is a fairy tale from a different culture – it’s fascinating getting an insight into a whole world I didn’t know existed. I’m thrilled to find out this book is part of a trilogy and I can’t wait to read the second installment!
Sleep is cousin to death, Vasya. And both are mine.
I don’t know how Katherine Arden manages to write a fantasy novel that is also so relatable. Although she can see things no one else can, Vasya is just like us. She is spirited, she is headstrong, she is both troubling and troublesome. Although her trials and tribulations are as different as can be from the average person, Vasya is an entirely wholesome protagonist.
It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.
It’s not just Vasya – I could read a whole novel about any one of the characters. Lovely Olga, sweet Irina, Marina and Pyotr’s backstory, Dushya, Sasha – Arden could release a trilogy on one or all of these characters and I’d pick it up in a heartbeat.
There is magic in your bones. You must reckon with it.
Fair warning: tears *might* be shed. The story has twists and turns, and there’s a lot of love and laughter, but also some loss. More than anything, this is a heart-warming fantasy that anyone can sink right into. I don’t normally compare authors to authors or books to books, but if you loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik, or anything by Eva Ibbotson, you will for sure love The Bear and the Nightingale.
But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing. We have never needed saving before.
Tip: there’s a glossary of words at the end of the book. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this until I got to the end.