The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightgale is a medieval Russian fairy tale-esque novel by debut author Katherine Arden.

And it’s beautiful.

That’s pretty much the whole review I want to give this book. It’s beautiful. It’s an experience. You should absolutely read it.

The closest comparison I can think of is Uprooted by Naomi Novak, for the same dark fairy tale feel. The Bear and the Nightingale is something of a slow burn book, about a family living in Northern Russia, and particularly about their youngest daughter, Vasya, who loves to run wild in the forest and sees the creatures of folklore all around her.

The novel juxtaposes Vasya and her stepmother, Anna, two young women who have the sight. Vasya embraces the creatures as protectors of the land and her friends, while Anna sees them as demons, and throws herself into religion to try and escape them. Then a young charismatic priest, Konstantin, comes to the village, and decides that he’s been called by God to rid these people of their old-religion superstitions and fill them with fear of God’s wrath. He reviles Anna, who wants nothing more than to be his disciple, and is obsessed with Vasya, who he increasingly sees as a witch. When Konstantin’s fear allows a dark force to awaken in the forest, Vasya must fight to protect the magic that protects them all.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a book of wild forests, dark creatures, unsettling promises, and complex characters. It’s a story of magic, of wonder, of fear, and of not fitting in, beautifully imagined and enchantingly told. I really recommend it.


04 comments on “The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

  • Courtney , Direct link to comment

    I just read this book and I freaking loved it, despite being unfamiliar with Russian fairy tales. You are right: it IS beautiful!

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Glad I’m not alone! I wasn’t at all familiar with Russian fairy tales or anything about Medieval Russia, and it’s definitely left me intrigued to find out more.

  • Sakshi , Direct link to comment

    This book sounds incredible and right up my alley based on what I’m in the mood for right now! I just checked out the Amazon sample and I’m so intrigued. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I’ve placed a hold at my library. 🙂

    My TBR list is already a mile long, but I’ll accept any excuse for reading!

    By the way, have you tried the How to Train Your Dragon book series? I adore the movies (Toothless is so cute!), and the books, though quite different, share core themes. The first two books are pretty good about breaking gender stereotypes even though the characters are only male, and from the third book onwards, we get really interesting female characters that are a joy to read! I really like the way they deal with toxic masculinity and also the way they handle their most prominent female protagonist, who uses her wits and is allowed to be imperfect and confident to sometimes the point of arrogance. The audiobooks are fantastic because they’re narrated by David Tennant. It makes me really happy that young children are reading these books!

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I hope you enjoy it too! It really enchanted me.

      I haven’t read that series, actually. I loved the first movie, and I always meant to check out the books, but I never ended up getting around to it. Might need to add it to my Audible to-listen list….

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