Review: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden

Reading time 3 mins

*This trailer features the European cover for this book.

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE really took me by surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was not this. This story actually reminded me of WINTERSONG without the music. That’s not to say that this story isn’t wholly original, just that the dream-like quality of this folklore storytelling is pretty rare.

This story is pure Russian folklore complete with a sleepy little town surrounded by a vast wilderness and a seemingly endless winter. Everyone in Vasilisa‘s, (Vasya), hometown worships both God and the spirits that haunt the town. They leave offerings for the spirits and the spirits protect them from evil. When Vasya’s father remarries a nutter who sees and is frightened by the spirits, and a new holy man comes to town, they convince the people to turn away from the spirits and stick to worshiping the “one true god”. That’s when everything gets really bad and dark for the people of her town. Vasya may be the only one with gifts dark enough to protect her people, but at what cost.

This story builds slowly introducing Vasya and her family, most of whom practice the old ways. The town sees Vasya as a witch and wild child who runs off into the forest getting into all sorts of trouble. The story begins with Vasya‘s birth in those woods and her mother’s death. This sets Vasya up to be raised by a father who loves her fiercely, but isn’t quite sure what to do with her. It doesn’t help that all his other children are pretty normal and want normal lives of being married and making children, things which Vasya seems to have no interest in.

The story includes some interesting characters, one of whom is a horse named Nightingale. They also include a pair of brothers who are demons of the woods and of winter itself that no one but Vasya and her half-crazed step mother can see. The story is told in lyrical prose that might be a bit hard to follow at first. Once I figured out the rhythm of the story, I got really into Vasya‘s story, but I admit it took me a while.

Although the story moves forward at an awkward pace, I felt every scene and could easily imagine the environment of each character. There is good and evil, but it is more a story about living in the grey. When a girl is born different she opens the eyes of everyone she encounters to the supernatural all around them.

Although this book tells a complete story, I am really looking forward to where the author will take the characters next. There were a few loose ends but I am sated by the conclusion to this story. This story is so much of an experience of the senses. THE BEAR AND NIGHTINGALE will appeal to readers who love superstition and fear as the main tone of a fairy tale. It is an adult book about Russian folklore and it is beautifully written.

My Rating

The Winternight trilogy

Review: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Series: The Winternight Trilogy #1
Also in this series: The Girl in The Tower
Published by Random House Publishing Group on January 10th 2017
Pages: 322
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, General, Literary, Magical Realism
Also by this author: The Girl in The Tower
eBook provided by My Wallet (purchased)

AmazonAudibleBook Depository

NATIONAL BESTSELLER * A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.
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.
Praise for The Bear and the Nightingale
"Vasya [is] a clever, stalwart girl determined to forge her own path in a time when women had few choices."--The Christian Science Monitor
"Stunning . . . will enchant readers from the first page. . . . with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Utterly bewitching . . . a lush narrative . . . an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family."--Booklist (starred review)
"Arden's supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Radiant . . . a darkly magical fairy tale for adults, [but] not just for those who love magic."--Library Journal
"An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale . . . The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic."--Robin Hobb
"A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up."--Naomi Novik "Haunting and lyrical, The Bear and the Nightingale tugs at the heart and quickens the pulse. I can't wait for her next book."--Terry Brooks
"The Bear and the Nightingale is a marvelous trip into an ancient Russia where magic is a part of everyday life."--Todd McCaffrey
"Enthralling and enchanting--I literally couldn't put it down."--Tamora Pierce

About Katherine Arden

Katherine Arden is the author of the national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale. Born in Austin, Texas, Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

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By | 2017-12-08T20:40:28+00:00 Monday, September 18, 2017|4 stars, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, reviews|8 Comments

About the Author:

Mother, Lover, Writer, Reviewer, Social Media Princess. Karen has been a blogger since 2010. She is a US Army veteran, a medical professional, and the mother of four. Karen is the owner of That Book Store llc. She reviews books and shares mind vomit for this blog in her 'spare' time. Karen lives in New England.


  1. Evelina September 20, 2017 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    There is A TRAILER for this book xD that is awesome! I didn’t even know that. I am totally sharing it on Twitter. I have to say, the trailer really works for the feel of this book!

    And you’re right that it tells a complete, yet not a complete story. The pacing is awkward indeed, but I felt like maybe the first book was meant to set the stage for the second and third books? I sure hope so.
    Check Out Evelina’s most recent post- The Triple Sunshine Award!My Profile

    • Karen Blue
      September 20, 2017 at 7:14 pm - Reply

      I love the Trailer as well. I always try to add the trailer if the book has one. Thanks for checking out my review!

  2. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
    September 20, 2017 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    This sounds wonderful and everything I expected it to be despite the disjointed elements. I’m fascinated by Russian history and Russian culture and have been intrigued by this ever since I first saw it. Wonderful review! I’m looking forward to reading this one!
    Check Out Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library’s most recent post- A Strange Scottish Shore – Historical Fiction ReviewMy Profile

  3. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity September 22, 2017 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Great review. This book is one I adored but I definitely had a bit of a love/hate feel for it because the pacing killed me. I struggled with it but the publisher said such great things and I had an ARC so I gave it a shot and once the story got going it was love. I adored the russian folklore as it gave a fresh element to a genre where so often the folklore is european based and it’s difficult to offer fresh stories in that. Russian folklore is not so common and so does add something new to the story.
    Check Out Becky @ A Fool’s Ingenuity’s most recent post- The Holiday HiatusMy Profile

    • Karen Blue
      September 23, 2017 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      Yes it was a wonderful story but it had some issues. I hope the next book has a more predictable pace. Thanks for checking out my review!

  4. Di @ Book Reviews by Di September 29, 2017 at 6:50 am - Reply

    This is REALLY high on my TBR and the fact that it reminded you of Wintersong REALLY has ramped up my interest because I loved Wintersong.

    My only reservation was that I didn’t realise it was going to be a series until recently but now that you say it is actually a complete story that makes me happy again. 🙂

    Wonderful review!
    Check Out Di @ Book Reviews by Di’s most recent post- Review: Blood and Stars – Jaime Lee MannMy Profile

    • Karen Blue
      October 3, 2017 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      I hope you get a chance to read it. It is pretty similar to the way Wintersong was told, at least the beginning (above ground) anyways. Thanks for checking out my review!

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