I decided to go into this book without knowing an awful lot, which in this case I believe to have been the best way. All the way up until its release I had been seeing glowing reviews for Arden’s debut, so the instant I could get a hold of it, I did.
And what happened?
I was whisked away to winter in medieval Russia, and swept up in a magical and enchanting tale.
The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of Pytor Vladimirovich and his family. When his wife Marina dies during child birth, he is left a young new daughter Vasya, who his wife before her death hoped would be gifted with the magical birth right held by her bloodline. Vasya grows up to be headstrong young women with a wandering nature and a special connection to the wilderness, who can see and talk to household spirits. When a priest comes to her village with a mission to ‘save’ and invokes fear into her people, the villagers begin to abandon their spirits and guardians whom in tradition have always left offerings for, not knowing they are putting themselves in danger from malicious forces, and setting into motion a series of events that Vasya has to face if she wants to protect her people.
Told in a fairy-tale style, it is a wonderfully layered novel that seamlessly weaves in rich Russian folklore, history and myth. Though a slow but necessary start, it begins with the backstory of the family before Vasya, introducing you to the secondary characters that are just as well written and distinctive, and a set up for what’s to come. This novel is more character-driven than by plot and it is told from multiple perspectives from almost every character you meet. I did feel at some points there were lots of characters suddenly cropping up which made it difficult to keep up with and remember who they were, especially as each had multiple names, yet this is something that gets easier as you go along.
The writing is so deeply atmospheric. It felt unbelievably authentic, so much so that at points I physically felt cold. It really captures the feeling of being in the middle of a harsh winter in Russia, with so much uncertainty and tension present. It definitely felt fitting when I was curled up reading this by the fire with a hot drink.
One thing I especially admire about this book is how Arden has managed to write Russian legends into the story, and for them to be understandable and enjoyable to read about by people like me who are completely new to them. I never felt lost when reading, and now I have an interest in learning more of them, which I say is a job well done if you make me want to know more about something!
The reason I couldn’t give this a higher rating was due to feeling it lacked detail in lot of places, and that there were many aspects of the plot that seemed to be forgotten about or not explained further, which honestly bugged me quite a bit. I now know that there are two more books following on from this, so I hope that they will pick up on these things. The ending, although satisfying enough, seemed very rushed and abrupt, and I just felt because it took so long to get to it, and so many things had happened, it should’ve had more time, but saying that I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Bear and The Nightingale is an ambitious debut, that is richly imagined and an enchanting read.
Publication date: 12/01/17
Publisher: Random House UK, Ebury Publishing
Genre: Fantasy, General fiction (adult)