The Bear and the Nightingale
(Winternight Trilogy, Book One)
By Katherine Ardin
Narrator: Kathleen Gati
Length: 11 hours & 48 minutes
Genres: Fiction, Adult, Fantasy, Historical-Fiction
Take a Peek: Goodreads | Overdrive | Audible | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Story Rating: 4 Stars
Performance Rating: 2.5 Stars
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars
Ugh, this book was slooooooooooooow… I’m so torn about this one and I’m pretty sure that listening to it on audio was a mistake. It also didn’t help that I went in with super high expectations, not only because it’s gotten good reviews, but the description sounded right up my alley. In the end, this book had high highs and low lows that were a little disappointing, but won’t deter me from continuing the series.
The marriage of Marina and Pyotr is one of the rare instances where an arranged match transforms into true love. Patient and sturdy Pyotr has loved his wife since the first night they met and she him. They even have four lovely children together—three boys and a girl. When Pyotr finds out she’s pregnant with a fifth, him and their nurse Dunya beg Marina not to have the baby because they know she’s too weak. She insists though, emphasizing how important it is for the child to be born. The day Vasilisa comes into the world is also the day Marina leaves it.
Once Vasilisa is a little older, she’s grown into a wild free-spirited girl. She’s loved by the whole family, but they know that taming her into a man’s wife will be difficult in the future. At the urging of one of his sons, Pyotr goes to Moscow to find a wife who can help parent her. He finds that in Anna and marries her at the urging of the Prince (I think??? I don’t know, I forgot his character as soon as he left honestly…) despite her strange quirkiness. All her life she’s seen monsters, creatures, and demons everywhere and its made her frightened and jumpy about everything. When Anna learns that Vasilisa can see them too, it unhinges her and blooms a hatred for the young girl.
Fast forward and Vasilisa is a woman of 14 who’s just as wild as ever, though she’s become better and hiding it. Her stepmother Anna is a cold woman who’s had one daughter that she dotes on constantly. In her spare time Vasilisa likes to hide in the forest, speak to her mythical creatures, and ride and talk to the horses. When a new priest moves to town, however, things start to change. He convinces the people to stop believing in their pagan ideas and that leaving offerings for the guardians goes against God. Slowly after the offerings stop, Vasilisa’s magical friends grow weaker and can’t protect the village.
When a bigger threat starts awakening the dead the attacking her town, it’s up to Vasilisa to save everyone.
Okay, W-O-W how annoying was Anna?!? Man did I HATE her character in this. I mean, I’m suppose to hate her, so good job to Katherine Arden, but damn was she annoying. Sorry, but I’ve been dying to say that for days. Any time she cried or fainted I wanted to rip her hair out.
Hmmmm where to start? … This is hard because the stuff I liked I really liked. The setting, writing, characters, and mythical guardians were all amazing to read about and built a magical world that I loved being a part of. But the story—particularly the beginning half—just drags on and on and on. My attention listening to the audiobook kept drifting in waves, which didn’t seem to negatively effect my understanding of the story at all. I paid attention in the beginning, then spaced out, then came back when Vasilisa got lost in the woods and found a one-eyed man, then spaced out again, then came back when her father went to Moscow for a new wife, and so on and so on. To me it feels like the entire beginning could be dramatically condensed and still weave the same amazing tale.
I also had a hard time with this narrator because she was a bit too monotone for me and didn’t help the whole almost-falling-asleep thing. Gati did an amazing job with the Russian accents, so I can understand why she was chosen, but truthfully I found her a tad dull.
That being said, if the second book is anything like the last half of this one, I’m guaranteed to love it wholeheartedly. It was so good!!! That frost demon made me FEEL some things! PHEW!!
Also, Vasilisa asking the frost demon if ever gets jiggy with it pretty much made my life.
Similar to my experiences with Sabriel, I was practically falling asleep on my keyboard all through the beginning, but had to fight the urge to give this five stars by the end. Once Vasya gets older and Anna, her new stepmother, comes to live with the family, the story really picks up and finally managed to capture my attention. That’s when we start seeing more magical creatures and learning the rules of this magical world. And when Vasilisa FINALLY meets up with Morozko (a.k.a the frost demon) SHIT GETS REAL.
The writing and world building in this book are AMAZING all the way through. Arden weaves such an enchanting story that just feels like an old Russian folktale as you read it. I know absolutely nothing about Russia during this time period, but she makes it all sound true. It feels like I could time travel back there and find guardians hiding in the forest among the trees.
And Vasilisa’s character is SUBLIME. It’s no exaggeration when I say she’s probably one of my favorite female protagonists ever. Fierce and brave and wild—she always does what’s right for her family, but doesn’t let anyone get in the way of what she wants. Even though we have to suffer through the monotonous beginning, part of me understands why because her character transformation by the end is beautiful. The oppression of women is a physical weight on this book that effects every female character in different ways. Seeing that bear down on Vasilisa made me a little misty-eyed at times, but it was so rewarding to see her determination at the end.
This is just a beautiful book. If you can stick with the slow pace in the beginning, it’s definitely worth it by the end and I’m excited to see where Vasilisa takes us next.
TALK TO ME
Have you read this yet? What did you think?!?
I’m not the only one in love with the frost demon am I??
Would you want to talk to animals if you could?
Holler at me in the comments!!