Book review – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

If you liked The Witches of New York, then you will love The Bear and the Nightingale. The two books have some similarities: women’s role in society, Christianity’s repression of “old ways,” spirits, and fear of the unknown.

Similarities aside, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Save for a few chapters in the beginning, I had a really hard time stepping away from this book.

The Bear and the Nightingale takes place in medieval Russia. It tells the story of a girl who inherited her mother’s gifts, her family who don’t know about or understand these gifts, and the opposing forces that could destroy everything.

At first, it feels like it’ll just be a historic family drama with the occasional bit of local lore thrown in. The focus is set wide, encompassing the whole family and even centering on the father for a time. But, the focus slowly narrows in to Vasilisa. As we get closer to her, we start seeing more spirits and learning more about them and their connection with the village. We also start to see the effects of the villagers move to be more Christian and turn away from old traditions that fed the spirits.

The main character, Vasilisa, is a fantastic heroine: strong, bright, wild, and courageous. This, ultimately, causes conflict with her family and her village, but she holds her head high and fights for what she knows is right. And, her family, with the exception of her step mother, look beyond their fear to respect and love her to the very end.

I decided to listen to the audiobook because I knew I would stumble over the Russian names. I’m so glad I made this decision. The version I found was performed by Kathleen Gati and she did a brilliant job. While the narration was done in a familiar North American accent, she did all the dialogue with a Russia accent. It added depth and authenticity to the story.

If you know of books similar to The Bear and the Nightingale, please let me know in the comments.

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