In the freezing Northern region of Russia, Vasya lives with her father, the leader of their small village, and her many siblings. Although her mother died giving birth to her, they live happily and comfortably until her father remarries, bringing home the daughter of the Grand Prince of Russia to be her stepmother. As Vasya grows up, she despises her stepmother more and more and begin putting more trust in the demons that lurk in the corners of her home and around their village.
I picked up this book in January at the recommendation of my MFA mentor and I finally had a chance to read it. This style of magical realism, dark and steeped in legends, has always been one of my favorites to read. My husband, Daniel, has also been excited to read it since he's fascinated by Russian royalty and politics from this time period. So we both had very high hopes for the book and eventual series!
The setting of this book was probably my absolute favorite part. The time period, with its tumultuous political landscape, and the descriptions of the hard winters in Northern Russia came together for a beautiful and unique backdrop to the story. It was oddly satisfying to read a book about people being frozen to death while sweating through my clothes in the middle of summer.
Vasya is a fascinating main character, as she's young for most of the book, barely becoming sixteen by the end. For this recent, she's oddly complacent in many of the obstacles in the story. Things happen to her and because she's so small, she can't do much to fight back. But she creates her own rebellion in a way that makes her a strong protagonist in a unique and memorable way. There are a number of other memorable characters, including the demons Vasya meets throughout the book, her wicked Cinderella-esque step-mother, and some of her siblings who help her out in small ways.
The book is told in the style of a fairy tale, so it was a much different read than others I've reviewed so far this year. A lot of events are summarized and large periods of time pass in between paragraphs, which can be off-putting at times. However, since the book relies so much on fairy tales, the style makes sense for the story. The plot had enough intrigue and mystery in it to pull me along despite the odd prose style.
The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in the Winternight Trilogy. I already have the second book, The Girl in the Tower, and I hope to be able to review it later this year. If you love fairy tales and historical fantasy, you'll love The Bear and the Nightingale!