As a lover of fairytale/folklore/mythological retellings, I picked this up in the kindle sale ages ago, and then got distracted by the library. I kept seeing it on blogs, people saying it was amazing, and I started straight after Grey Sister in a desperate attempt to stem a book hangover (does this make it the book equivalent of a bloody mary?). I am glad I read it. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden.
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
The Bear and the Nightingale – Blurb from Goodreads
This is lyrical, narrated in the past tense with a shifting perspective in the way of all good fairytale stories, weaving atmosphere and superstition into a small town in the northern woods of Rus’. It is captivating and interesting, building a place that promises magic and the horrors that often seem to come with mythical magics. A girl who sees the spirits of the world, the Frost King rides a white horse and has a name and a legend, a priest stuffed with the pain of banishment and the sense of holy righteousness, a recipe for a good story told around the fire on winter nights.
Set in medieval Russia, and mostly in a village bordering forest in the far north where the winters are truly harsh, this is a story of a young girl born as her mother dies, a girl who is half wild and can see things beyond what others can. It echoes folklores and while I know very little about Russian folklore specifically, it has that element of the magic and the macabre that all good folklores seem to combine. The characters had that edge of reality but the haze of storyworld, excellently done. I am finding it hard to describe how I liked the characters and how I didn’t. It takes the Stepmother storyline and weaves the stepmother into a wider story with a bigger impact than just jealously or malice. I think romance would have a bigger part to play in the later books, but this book didn’t have a prince riding in on a horse to sweep the wild maiden off her feet (she steals his horse) so they could ride off into the sunset together. No princess either, just a teenage girl who rides horses and talks to household spirts.
Unfortunately, this is part of a trilogy – I think it would have been perfectly perfect to have the ending as The End, rather than a pause to the next story. I can’t decide if I want to read the next one. I liked the characters, they were wild or civilised and not very personable, but I liked them. I liked the premise, but I can’t decide. This feels like a centuries old fairytale whispered by the light of fires when the snow is piled high – and it is perfectly magical in its own right. I am going to put the sequels onto my low priority list.
I’ve started working on a patchwork blanket for a new family member, which means I need to start listening to audiobooks. Can anyone recommend some going audiobooks? I don’t usually listen to audio – they need to be easy listening so I can also be counting stitches.