This is the most beautiful story. Katherine Arden and her debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale have me swooning. This novel married folklore to dark fantasy, a new voice to the beautifully ancient. This is my new favorite book.
The Bear and the Nightingale takes place in pre-Tsar Russia, where Catholicism has only just begun to take hold in the cities and the large, expensive churches. In the outlying villages, the old gods still receive tributes and are welcome in the villagers’ homes. Vasilisa, the daughter of a wealthy lord, can see the gods, knows when they are sated and has befriended them. Due to this peculiar friendship, the gods are happy and keep the village healthy and far from famine.
But not everyone has this ability, to see the gods. It comes from an old magic passed down through blood and there are some, out there, who need her sight for their own selfish purposes.
Vasilisa doesn’t begin to understand the true enormity of her power until a priest moves in to her father’s home and begins to turn the people of the village against their old gods. He threatens not only their beliefs but also their lives because, yes, in this book too, winter is coming. It’s up to Vasilisa to keep the old gods—her friends—alive and fed if she wants her village and her family to survive.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? How far would someone go to keep their family from harm? How much exactly do the gods require?
I love this book. It has family, humor, and frost gods. There are zombies and sibling rivalries, princesses and kings.
Here’s a piece for you:
“The brave live,” replied Morozko. “The cowards die in the snow. I did not know which you were.” He put the flower down and reached out a hand. His long fingers brushed the place where the wound had been, on her cheek and jaw. When his thumb found her mouth, the breath shivered in her throat. “Blood is one thing. The sight is another. But courage—that is rarest of all, Vasilisa Petrovna.”
Every sentence, I feel, has a way of leading the reader to the next and that, that’s the mark of a good writer. This novel compels you to read, dares you to stop and of course, has all the feels.
Watch out for this new writer, she’s got something to say.