What it’s about: Vasilisa is a young girl whose life in the Russian forests is filled with work, snow, and just a little magic. As she grows older, she begins to see strange things happening in her home. A priest moves into the town and begins to preach terrifying sermons against the old traditions of the Russian folk, instilling a fear of God in them. The house spirits and forest spirits that Vasilisa is so familiar with have begun to murmur about an evil growing stronger in the forest as they grow weaker from being underfed and ignored by the villagers. Vasilisa’s pious stepmother is acting more strangely than ever, and even her good-hearted father seems to be under his spell. When a terrible evil looms out of the woods, it will be up to Vasilisa to defend her family and her traditions, despite the cost.
Why I liked it: The Bear and the Nightingale was a beautiful and deeply satisfying read. It is methodical and thoughtful, especially in the beginning, and may even feel slow to readers who like a fast hook and stampeding action throughout. But The Bear and the Nightingale develops the plot and characters with every page, so by the time I’d arrived at the last third of the book, I couldn’t put it down. The ending is satisfying and beautiful — no small feat– and the characters felt personal, real, chilling, and intriguing. Finally, the setting felt thoroughly and deeply well-researched, and I forgot at times that I was not reading an actual Russian folk tale from the 1800s. I had seen a lot of blogs about this book before its release, and I’m delighted to say that it surprised me with its depth, beauty and attention to detail. Plus, it was the perfect read for a chilly New England winter.
Audience: 14+ (though it’s just as captivating for adults)
Read if you liked:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman