The Bear and the Nightingale Kathryn Arden. 2016 Del Rey. Netgalley.
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.
Vasya’s mother died in childbirth. Pytor Vadimivoich, her father tries to raise his daughter the best that he can, but between her nursemaid’s fairytales and her wild ways, he finds it impossible. He sets out to Moscow, determined to find a wife to reign her in. Once there, the Grand Prince schemes to keep his son on the throne by taking out the competition, marrying him off to Pytor’s daughter and marrying off his own mad daughter to Pytor to ensure the deal. Pytor wonders what is wrong with the Grand Prince’s daughter but doesn’t discover till much later after the wedding. He brings her home and she shrieks at the sight of the demons all around Pytor’s house. These Russian guardians take care of the people.
When another threat to throne is detected in the Priest Konstantin, he is sent packing for Pytor’s lands as well. He thinks of nothing but revenge until a mission occurs to him: he must save these people from their spirits. Soon, he frightens them into giving up their guardians. Things start to fail for the people. They think it’s because they’ve sinned and beg Konstantin to interfere on their behalf. He sees one who is not intimidated by his words and plans though: Vasya. He vows to break her. Instead, it is she who saves him repeatedly, though he betrays her to one he thinks is his god.
Now, the spirits are angry and the frost king would have his bride. Is it too late for Vasya to save her people? What lengths will Konstantin go to oppose her?
The book is complex and woven with such delicacy that it is a pleasure to read such. I enjoyed the characters though I wished to have seen more of some. Vasya is a charming girl who seeks to save her people despite their fears that she is a witch like her mother.
I give the story 5*****