I received a free e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!
The Bear and the Nightingale is the story of a young girl living in Rus (modern day Russia). She has a quiet life in a rural village, despite the fact that she’s inherited her mother’s gift to see the spirits that protect their agricultural way of life. As Christianity begins to make the villagers forget their old gods, the power of the good spirits weakens and the village becomes threatened. Is Vasilisa strong enough to use her gift to protect her village?
I have to say first off that I absolutely loved this book – it’s perfect for this time of year when the nights are drawing in and you can sit in front of the fire to get lost in a world of dark snowy forests and evil spirits. Also, don’t be put off by my synopsis above – I found it really hard to capture the essence of this book because there’s just so much going on. There’s lots of different characters who come and go, the plot could frequently go in several different directions and you never know what is going to happen next.
It was really nice to read a proper fantasy story that didn’t feel like a children’s book. It was gritty and fast paced with a really interesting mix of Russian folklore that gave just the right element of creepiness. However, I think that the best thing about the story was how the author made it so completely evocative of a cold Russian village in the woods. I got completely lost in the storytelling and a heavy usage of Russian terms made the tale feel totally authentic, like a wizened old lady is telling you a cautionary tale from her childhood.
I thought initially that the use of Russian words might be off putting but I thought that the author got the balance exactly right – there was enough to add to the charm of the book but not enough to be confusing (there’s also a handy glossary at the end).
I really loved the main character Vasilisa. I thought that she was a really good strong female role model, especially as the book is set in a period where women were seen as property. This is referenced within the story and I loved her defiance to the status quo, her attitude and her bravery. All of the characters in the book were very well written and I found most of them to be a bit marmite – you either loved or hated them.
I don’t want to give anything away but there really is an epic ending. I was worried that I was getting very close to the end and that there would be dome kind of disappointing cliff hanger but everything came together beautifully (whilst still leaving enough room for a sequel).
I would love there to be further books about Vasilisa to explore her world (and the world of the spirits) further. I also wanted to know more about her brothers and sisters and to hear more about life in the palace. If I had one criticism of the book it would be that some of the secondary characters were written out of the main story a little bluntly.
Overall, I found the Bear and the Nightingale to be totally enchanting and captivating. I completely got lost in it and would highly recommended it.
Overall rating: 9/10.