Kirkus Review - The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
In this Russian fantasy, young Vasya and her family face the clash of the old and new worlds, where the old stories told by the fire are more real than they can imagine—and their subjects will fight not to fade away.
Vasilisa may be an oddity in her town, but she lives a happy life, traipsing through the woods, befriending the spirits living around the village, and listening to stories from her nurse. Vasya’s favorite is about Frost, who they say rewards the worthy but devours the false. When her father decides to remarry, years after her mother died in childbirth with Vasya, he brings home a deeply superstitious and devout woman who seeks to stamp Vasya’s respect for the old customs and her oddities out. She enlists the help of a young priest, who despite his anger at being sent to the wilderness, makes his mission to save Vasya and the village, for despite their attendance in church, they leave offerings and pray to the old gods. Despite the best efforts of both, fiery Vasya resists all attempts, keeping her dedication to spirits even as they grow weaker. When the town begins to suffer—crops failing, fires, death—Vasya knows it’s because of the priest’s influence and fear tactics, and seeks a way to save her family and the benevolent gods that have protected them throughout the years. Arden deftly handles the repercussions of fear in the villagers and the things that go bump in the night present true challenge to Vasya’s fortitude and will. And even as Vasya is the soul of the story, there’s a true sense of depth in each character met.
Steeped deeply in Russian tradition and stories, Katherine Arden’s debut is lush, imaginative, and rich in detail. Sure to please lovers of fantasy and folklore.