Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

It took me a record breaking of over a month to finish this book, due to complications such as finals, procrastination, book con, and more procrastination. But without further ado, here’s the book review that I honestly don’t even wanna write cuz I’m always so tired no matter what.


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Name: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: June 27, 2017

Synopsis

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.


Book Cover Comments

I love the ambient vibe of the cover. So. Much. There’s the faint light coming in from the cabin in the middle of this misty frosty stormy snow night, plus the beautiful background blue that’s in perfect contrast with the overcoming trees.


The Actual Review

Honestly it’s not like I hated this book, it’s not like I didn’t enjoy this book and as to why it’s not a page turned and that it took me everything in my body to overcome procrastination.

It was super cool that the book combined different elements of Russian folklore and really highlighted the mythologies and brought them to life in this book. Vasilisa, as a girl born with the sight, gets to meet a range of different creatures, from house protectors to the Jack Frost of the legends. Vasilisa herself, was also a very strong character and truly goes against protocol and Russian society of when the book was set in, a strong heroine to find her own voice within its male dominated society and to prove that she is stronger than anyone else.

The book itself also did justice in pointing out the struggles of introducing new cultures into a group of people, and in this case it was Catholicism into this Russian village that was used to worshipping its local deities. The village struggles as change happens and fear begins to grow as tension builds up and what they thought is glorious (a.k.a. the new European religion) might in fact be the source of their pain was interesting indeed.

However, the entire faulty of this book lies within the pacing.

Oh boy.

The pacing of this book was thrown away in the gutter.

The majority of this book was spent on Vasilisa’s childhood and teen times, so whatever you read in the synopsis? It literally doesn’t happen until at least two-third way into the book. As much as the fact that Vasilisa’s childhood and teen times played an important part in world building, myth backstory developing and what-and-so-not, THE BOOK, DRAGGED, ON, FOREVER. The interesting stuff is of course the fear and tension and whatever big evil boss is being built up that you see in the synopsis, and you barely see any of that in this book!

I was very surprised to find that this book even had its own Wikipedia page, and in the “reception” section, critic Zoe Nicholson had commented:

Although Arden crafts a remarkably engrossing story, it lingers in places it shouldn’t. Arden spends most of Part I in Vasya’s childhood, a time when not many important plot points occur and too much contemplation is had. Parts II and III — Vasya’s adolescence and heroic trials — are where the most entertaining action happens, but Arden makes you wade through the boring exposition that fatigues you once you get to the more exciting parts.

…in which is what I said earlier on, and I completely agree with Nicholson’s opinion.

Then there’s the nanny and the dad that I absolutely loathe for one pressing reason: this mythical being gave nanny a magical talisman necklace to give Vasilisa once she turns old for protection. They never give it to her so HOW IS PLOT SUPPOSED TO PROGRESS? OBVIOUSLY THE TALISMAN NEEDS TO BE WITH VASILISA IN ORDER FOR Jack Frost OR SOMETHING TO APPEAR BUT NO. Nanny and Daddy’s like “no we defy against magical death that might or might not just try to kill us if we do or do not give necklace to Vasilisa”.

The other greatest problem I have with this book is the ever so confusing character names that just kept me going in circles in the carousel of confusion. If you saw in the synopsis, you see that Vasilisa is both “Vasilisa” and “Vasya”. In the book, she’s also addressed as “Vasochka”. THAT’S MY PROBLEM. Literally every child in this book, Vasya and her siblings have MULTIPLE NICKNAMES. I get it’s because of Russian alphabets, spellings and nicknames, but MY HEAD CAN’T GET STRAIGHT AND I’M SORRY IF I’M STUPID. I don’t understand Russian names and this just drove me crazy. If I told a difference between “Aloysha” and “Lyoshka” and it turned out that they were the same person, sorry because I’m stupid. Nicknames are cute and intimate but I couldn’t take it. It was ridiculous with the amount of time I spent trying to figure out who was who.

UPDATE: I was very confused to find that this book wasn’t a YA book. It was listed in the category of Adult fantasy, but considering the book spanned from Vasya’s childhood to adolescent times… man. 


The Bear and the Nightingale did what it could to infuse the potentials and magics of Russian folklore and mythology into a tale of female power as Vasilisa finds her place within the village she struggles to stay alive in; however, the book had let down with its dragging pace and slow progression.

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Joanne Lumiere

Joanne is the narcissistic founder of her book blog, Joanne Lumiere. Born and raised in Hong Kong, this 18 year old brat is currently attending college in Los Angeles, and still doesn't know how to read books with sophistication, and yet she runs a blog.

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