The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the-bear-and-the-nightingaleGenre: Fantasy, Adult Fiction, Fairytale Retelling, Folklore

Pages: 336

Publication date: January 10th, 2017 by Random House Publishing Group

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Summary: 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 nearer, 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.


“Blood is one thing. The sight is another.

But courage – that is rarest of all, Vasilisa Petrovna.”

What a positively beautiful book this was. For those who know or at least follow my reads will know that I enjoy reading Russian folklore/fairytales in any form that I can get them in [middle grade, YA, etc.] So, when this book came out in the form of a retelling of my UTMOST favorite Russian Tale – Vasilisa The Beautiful – I could not pass this up.

The landscape of this world is set in frigid Rus’ where the winters can be cruel and take the weak away. Such landscapes were painted in such a way that they were nearly tangible, I felt as if I were experiencing it especially as I read on cold nights under blankets.

The characters are soon introduced and there are plenty of them, the family as well as extended family. Vasya was born a special girl which was declared by her mother prior to her birth and lingered on her lips as she died. Pyotr kept his dying wife’s wish and ensured Vasya lived because she was special and to be like her magical grandmother. It’s soon seen that as Vasya grows she becomes wilder and in touch with the unseen world.

As she ages there is an arrival of a one-eyed man from her childhood, a cold, cruel man, a mad stepmother and eventually a priest that triggers a series of unfortunate events that threaten Vasya, her family, and world.

To me the book is written as if it were being told to a gathering around a fire on a crisp night by a babushka, spinning this beautiful tale as the night draws on.

What an absolutely stunning book. I savored it at first but a few days of savoring my hunger for more took over and I devoured it.

Share below your favorite folklore tale or fairytale!



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