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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

The Bear and the Nightingale

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

Rating - ⭐⭐1/2

"At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales."


Katherine Arden's debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, is the first installment in The Winternight Trilogy, a YA fantasy series based on Russian fairy tales.

As someone who took an english course in university for fairy tales, I would say my interest in the subject matter is high enough for the synopsis of this novel to pique my interest. Unfortunately for me, it did not live up to my expectations.

For the most part, I didn't enjoy reading this. The religious aspect of this was way more prominent than I expected (or wanted) it to be. I'm not really a fan of reading about religious extremism, or abuse of power, so needless to this, this wasn't very enjoyable for me to read.

The only reason I didn't give this a worse rating, was because the book actually got way more interesting near the end. I rather liked where the story went, it just took a long time to get there. Despite that, however, that does not mean that I am willing to pick up the rest of the series even though it may be better than the first. If you do not mind books with very prominent religious aspects and power dynamics, try this out for yourself.

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