Friday, January 20, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I know we're still in January but this is definitely going to be one of my favourite books of the year. I mean, it's gonna be pretty hard for any other fairytale-inspired book (or any book, really) to top this.

The Bear and the Nightingale is inspired by a host of Russian fairytales and stars Vasya (I hope I'm spelling her name right because everyone seems to have 12345 different nicknames). Vasya is special not just because her mother died after giving birth to her, but because the enchantment that was in her grandmother and mother seems to be passed down to her. She can see the magical creatures living around the house/estate and they, in turn, teach her.

Unfortunately, Vasya's idyllic childhood ends after her father brings back her stepmother, Anna. Anna is actually her mother's niece (so her cousin?!), but since her father is the Grand Prince of Rus', her father couldn't exactly say no to the marriage.

Where Vasya sees magic, Anna sees demons.

Soon after, a haughty priest named Konstantin is assigned to their village, and everything goes downhill.

What I loved about this book: EVERYTHING.

First up, world building. I'm not familiar with Russia, but I seriously felt drawn into the world (and the world of the magical creatures too). There's an author's note in front that indicates that she's done a lot of research for this, so I'm guessing that those familiar with Russian culture and history would like this too.

Second, the characters. Apart from Vasya, there are also her siblings (Sasha, the brother that became a warrior monk stands out) and Dunya, their nurse. All were very well-written and I would happily read books about them.

The villains too, were much better than I had expected. Anna is the 'evil stepmother', and certainly played the part well, but I never expected to sympathise with her that much. She was a victim of her gift and character and could have had a peaceful life if not for chance. Konstantin, too, started off as a proud but devout man. His gradual obsession with Vasya and him being duped by the main 'villain' of the book was well-written and I kept hoping he could be redeemed till he was past the point. Other notable characters: the frost king, the horses, and the various magical creatures. I loved them all (especially the horses!).

Finally, the plot. The book is split into three parts: her childhood, the threat and the battle. Not gonna give any spoilers, but I thought it was very well-paced and couldn't put the book down.

If you're into fairytales, you have to read this book. It's magical and amazing and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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