Title: The Bear and the Nightingale (review copy)
Series: The Winternight Trilogy
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, Slavic Folklore, Fable
Blurb from Goodreads
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 honour 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 honouring 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.
‘The Bear and the Nightingale‘ takes its inspiration from Slavic folklore and creates a story about a young girl battling the fine balance between the new and the old ways.
This book started out well.
It gave the feeling as if someone was telling the reader old fairytales and ghost stories around a fire on a dark and stormy winter night.
And I wish it had kept that feeling.
It might have worked better if it was a series of interconnected vignettes.
But the book got seriously bogged down in the narrative. The plot plodded along much too slowly, the pacing suffered from a giant case of lethargy!
I’m a reader who loves things messy and likes to get lost in a slow burning read…
But this wasn’t that for me either.
This was a book supposedly all about creating atmosphere. And the atmosphere was trying to be one of wintry coldness, of the lives of the living being slowly drained away… Unfortunately the atmosphere of the fictional world infected that of the writing. It too was cold and lacking in luminosity of life.
Then at about 75% through the book seriously developed into histrionics which just completely jarred with the first three quarters of the book. Instead of feeling fear or tension or even scared like I think I was supposed to, I just felt bored. And normally I get creeped out incredibly easily!!!
The characters for me were flat at best and at times some of them felt like bona fide pantomime characters; the stepmother quickly springs to mind! Honestly, I just wanted to shout ‘he’s behind you’ at times so laughable was it. As a reader I felt entirely detached from them and just found them to be rather plain at best.
What I did love was the detail and the effort that clearly has gone into researching Slavic folklore. I am a huge fan of old and dark fairytales and this had plenty of that going on….
At times too much so though.
I think for me that may have been why I didn’t love this book. The author wanted to prove how much she knew and threw what felt like the proverbial kitchen sink of fairytale characters at this book.
Either one of two things needed to happen for me to have enjoyed this book more: tighter editing or rethink the narrative structure so that I felt more connected to the characters.
Sadly this wasn’t for me and I won’t be continuing on with the rest of the books in The Winternight Trilogy.
A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Published: January 2017