A fantasy novel set in the fourteenth century, at the edge of a Russian wilderness in which history and myth coexist. A young girl must defy her domineering new stepmother in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
Arden wins points for coming up with one of the most believable explanations I’ve yet read for why a loving father would bring home a wicked stepmother: He had no choice ... Early reviews have compared the novel to Naomi Novik’s utterly delightful Uprooted. The Bear and the Nightingale doesn’t quite have the satisfying lift-off of that Nebula-winning novel – it devotes too many pages to a brother whose subplot never materializes, and hints about Vasilisa’s maternal line are never satisfyingly explored. But Vasya remains a clever, stalwart girl determined to forge her own path in a time when women had few choices. I can also count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read set in medieval Rus – before Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great.
There was a great deal to love in this book. Arden's weaving of folklore and fairy tale with a very solid evocation of feudal Russia is beautiful and deft. As Nicola Griffith does in Hild, Arden fills in the gaps of the historical record by drawing on a very tactile experience of the present-day landscape — we may not know everything about the day to day life of a medieval Russian farmer, but we do know the bite of cold in the fingertips, or the way snow settles on pine. Arden's prose, especially in the first third of the book, has the breathtaking insight of poetry ... Unfortunately, the latter parts of The Bear and the NightingaleRead Full Review >>
The strength of The Bear and the Nightingale lies in its evocation of life in the Russian wilderness, with its seasons, hardships, and beauties. We are given a vivid glimpse of a time gone by, and I found myself immersed in the dramas of the village and hearth. While I have no great expertise in Russian folklore, its use here feels true in spirit while adapting to the specific world of the narrative. This strong cultural backbone combines with fairytale prose and a stalwart heroine to make for an enjoyable read that would appeal to fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. It is therefore unfortunate to discover that the last quarter of the book does not quite deliver on this promise ... The climax of the book escalates into a full-on physical battle which feels unprecedented by everything that has come before, and plot decisions and character developments veer down the path of least resistance rather than delving deeper into something more nuanced ... Despite the flaws of its ending, I would happily recommend The Bear and the Nightingale to fans of folkloric fantasy, as well as to anyone who likes their historical fiction with a healthy dose of magic.