Rating – 5 out of 5
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden opens deep in the forests of Russia; there lives a girl, Vasya, and her family that are caught in a world between the christian God and the gods of old. While there is mostly a peace between these two opposing forces, the balance is disturbed by people from the outside and the world gets darker. Vasya, as one who is attuned with the old world must find her strength and protect the old ways.
“‘But if you’re the only one, then where do you come from?’
Philosophical conversation was not the domovoi’s strong suit. His seamed brow furrowed, and there was a suggestion of hesitation in his hands. ‘I am here because the house is here. If the house weren’t here, I wouldn’t be, either.'”
– The Bear and the Nightingale, Pg. 86
Why I liked The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Vasya, is a fantastic character. As a young girl I remember reading many books about other brave and resourceful young women that I wanted to emulate. I found that feeling again in Vasya. She knows that she is different than everyone around her and is self-possessed even in a culture that does not support that quality in women. One of the ways that I find her to be beautifully written is in the way that she lives in a culture that is not kind to her as a woman and as someone so in tune with the spiritual world around her yet still reads as someone definitely of that time.
I have read a few fairytale-esque books this year and this one is by far my favorite. The artful way that Arden blurred the lines of reality and the old gods was unique. They seemed a part of the background, there and yet also not at all times. Specifically the household gods, the domovoi and the vazila were fascinating in their sense of their place in the world. They are portrayed with such deep connection with the household and the world around them in a way that made them real actors in the world without asserting their existence in a clear way. When things would go poorly because of their suffering it was obvious what was happing to Vasya and the reader but not to anyone else in the novel, thus maintaining the balance of spirituality.
This novel is one that would love to reread. It has so many layers to the portrayal of both Vasya, her family and the household gods that I am sure that I did not pick up everything in my first reading. I devoured this book and could not set it down. Arden’s next novel, a sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale will be coming out in a few months and you can preorder here. I know I will be!
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