Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Have you ever had a book on your “To Read” list that you’ve been dying to read, or have been pushing your book club to pick? That was me with Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale.

Since giving my two week notice and submitting grades two weeks before the last day of school (not my rule, admin’s rule), I’ve had a lot of time to do non-work things at work such as reading, finishing all that’s available of Outlander, and printing a ton of personal things since I don’t have a person printer. Here are my thoughts and some quick facts and information on The Bear and the Nightingale:


“At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

“After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

“And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

“As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical debut novel from a gifted and gorgeous voice. It spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent.” (Source: Goodreads)

Popular Goodreads tags: fantasy, historical, historical fiction, fiction, young adult, fairy tales, mythology, cultural, Russia, adult

About the Author:

“Born in Texas, Katherine studied French and Russian at Middlebury College. She has lived abroad in France and in Moscow, among other places. She has also lived in Hawaii, where she wrote much of The Bear and the Nightingale. She currently lives in Vermont.” (Source: Goodreads)

What I Liked About the Book:

I like how the story tied into different aspects of Russian culture — that being said, I also disliked this, but I’ll go into that in the next section. I love origin stories and fairy tales, so I loved that there was almost a battle between Russia’s origin story, legends, and “old” religion and traditions vs. the “new” religion (Christianity or Eastern Orthodox Christianity). *spoiler* I also liked how the legend Dunya told in the beginning of the story tied in with the entire novel and resolution.

What I Disliked About the Book:

First, although the incorporation of Russian culture and legend was cool, it was also a hinderance. If you don’t know Russian or have little understanding of the language and Russian culture, you are going to struggle with reading and understanding what’s going in the story. Russian words are used frequently throughout the book and although you eventually get a semi-understanding of what those words mean, you’ll still need to refer to a translator of some sort or Wikipedia.

Second, every character had multiple names and it was very hard to keep track of who was who because of it. Luckily, some of the characters’s different names (like pet names, nicknames, and given names) were similar to each other — like the protagonist, Vasilisa, was mostly called Vasya, but sometimes called Vasochka. Other characters’s different names were totally different from each other — like Vasya’s brother Sasha’s given name was Alexander (which makes no sense to me at all how the two correlate), but she called him Sashka.

As well, on the topic of names, sometimes the characters were called by their first and last name together. This was confusing because family names didn’t match up — I don’t know if this is a part of Russian culture and similar to how family names slightly differ between men and women in other Eastern European cultures. Like, the father’s name was Pyotr Vladimirovich, but then his children’s names were Olga and Vasya Petrovna and Kolya, Sasha, and Alyosha Petrovich. Why is the father’s last name different from his children’s? In my mind, it would make sense that their last name also be Vladimirovich or some variant of that, but where did Petrovich and Petrovna come from? That was very confusing for me and I had to remind myself of who was who and how the characters were related.

Finally, I just didn’t like the way the book was written. It was very hard for me to picture the characters and the scenery, and I felt like the story was being told to me, not shown to me. I feel as if Arden was trying to go for a writing style suited to the Medieval time period of the novel, but it just felt forced and out of place making the pace move very slowly.


Rating: 2 out of 5.

This book was fine, but I’m not happy with reading it.

I really wanted to like this book. This has been on my “Want To Read” list for so long because the synopsis just sounded so good. Unfortunately, this book was a struggle to read and I was forcing myself to finish it before it was due back at the library. I really gave this book a try and a fighting chance, but I was very disappointed.

This book is part of a series and I would want to read the rest of the series thanks to the ending, but, to me, having to struggle through another novel written in a similar style isn’t worth it for me to know what happens next. I gave it two stars because the story is interesting and I’m sure there are people that prefer this type of writing style, it just isn’t my cup of tea.

Interested in reading The Bear and the Nightingale for yourself? Click the cover below to purchase for Kindle or Audible, or in print:

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy)

In the comments…

Share your thoughts on The Bear and the Nightingale if you’ve already read it. What’d you think of the story and did you continue reading the series?

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