If I have one winter reading recommendation – this is it. A quiet, enchanting, and deeply atmospheric story set in the cold, medieval Russian wilderness.
I know, I know, it’s not winter yet (thank goodness), but I do wish it was when I read this book. I would have loved to layer on wool socks and sweaters, and cozy up under the covers for a read like this. That’s the first thing I’ll say about this book: it’s chilly. Arden’s prose and imagery is so compelling that you can feel the cold while reading.
The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of a family living on the edge of the Russian wilderness, where most nights are spent huddled around the embers of a fire, listening to fairy tales and fables. Here, people follow old-age traditions and rituals to honour spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. But after their mother dies, their father goes to Moscow and brings home a new fiercely devout, city-bred stepmother – who forbids them from honouring the household spirits.
Enter Vasalisa Petrovna, our feisty, rebellious protagonist:
But the rip in her blouse was large, her hunger vast, and her patience negligible even under better circumstances.
With the risk of her stepmother’s wrath, Vasilisa is forced to honour the household spirits in secret and keep her magical gifts concealed. But as the rest of the family and the village begin to neglect the traditions and rituals of old, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village…
This was such a captivating read for me. It’s everything I could have ever wanted in a fairy tale. Lyrical. Magical. Whimsical. Not to mention an incredibly likeable, adventurous, quick-witted, and sensible female protagonist. AND. That ending! The last 100 pages were OH so satisfying to read – definitely a cherry on top. But I don’t want you to tell you more than that.
My rating: ★★★★★
Here’s a final quote from our lovely Vasalisa before you go:
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.
Please go read this wonderful fairy tale. I promise you won’t regret it.
See y’all soon,