In her first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden has created a coming-of-age story rooted in folklore, set in the Russian wilderness and surrounded by the magic of winter.
In 14th-century Russia, Vasya is an unusual girl—wild and strong, perceptive and brave—who grew up captivated by her family’s frightening tales and legends. But when Vasya finds the stories to be true, and realizes she has special and coveted abilities, she must protect her family from ancient dangers long believed to be fairy tales.
Arden masterfully portrays the unbridled freedom of her young heroine, as ominous forces loom and the tension heightens between the old ways of the village and the new official religion of Orthodox Christianity. Vasya and her family live in a world of beeswax and wine, of warm ovens and deep sleep, described in gorgeous and lyrical prose. At the novel’s core lies a wonderfully woven family tapestry, with generations of sibling friendship, ancestral insight and marital love.
Arden, who has a B.A. in French and Russian literature, spent a year living and studying in Moscow, and her background in Russian culture delivers an added layer of authenticity. She includes a note concerning her transliteration process and a glossary of terms at the end, lending more context to this textured, remarkable blend of history and fantasy.
A commanding opening of an enchanting new series, The Bear and the Nightingale is a must-read for lovers of history, fairy tales and whirlwind adventures. With an unforgettable setting and an exceptional female protagonist, this literary fantasy is a spellbinding read.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Katherine Arden.
This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.