The Bear and the Nightingale

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 n...

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Title:The Bear and the Nightingale
Author:Katherine Arden
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Bear and the Nightingale Reviews

  • Robin Hobb

    Just finished reading an ARC of this forthcoming book. You will have to wait until 201 to get your hands on it.

    First, a metaphor. Have you ever been about to eat something, thinking it's flavored with vanilla and cinnamon? Then you bite into it and discover ginger and nutmeg (also favorites of mine.)

    This book is a bit like that. It's fantasy. Okay, I've read lots of that. It's told rather like a fairy tale. Okay, ready for that.

    It's told a bit like a Russian fairy tale only the setting is very

    Just finished reading an ARC of this forthcoming book. You will have to wait until 201 to get your hands on it.

    First, a metaphor. Have you ever been about to eat something, thinking it's flavored with vanilla and cinnamon? Then you bite into it and discover ginger and nutmeg (also favorites of mine.)

    This book is a bit like that. It's fantasy. Okay, I've read lots of that. It's told rather like a fairy tale. Okay, ready for that.

    It's told a bit like a Russian fairy tale only the setting is very grounded in a reality that will leave your nose and toes chilled and make you wish a horse like that would come your way.

    That's as close as I'm coming to a spoiler. You deserve to read this book so the story unfolds page by page. Put it on your shopping list.

  • Mischenko

    To see this review and Q&A with the author, please visit

    Words cannot describe how much I cherish this book. The characters were described so well and the story was absolutely fantastic and so magical. ♡♡♡

    Certain parts of the story felt so nostalgic to me. It reminded me of my upbringing with my Russian grandmother and our old Orthodox Church. Matyushka, Batyushka and many of the other words in the story evoked a glimpse into my past. There wasn’t anything I didn’

    To see this review and Q&A with the author, please visit

    Words cannot describe how much I cherish this book. The characters were described so well and the story was absolutely fantastic and so magical. ♡♡♡

    Certain parts of the story felt so nostalgic to me. It reminded me of my upbringing with my Russian grandmother and our old Orthodox Church. Matyushka, Batyushka and many of the other words in the story evoked a glimpse into my past. There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about this book. Happy with all of it, every word, even the ending.

    I would definitely recommend reading the glossary in the back of the book first to understand the meaning of some of the words. ♡♡♡

    I have high expectations and can’t wait for the second book “The Girl in the Tower.”

    5***** and I’m definitely purchasing this one!

  • Paromjit

    This is an atmospheric and intoxicating read that draws on history and Russian fairytales. Set in medieval times, it charts the origins of Vasya's birth and her mother's determination to have a daughter endowed with her grandmother's powers despite it meaning her death in childbirth. The novel begins with Dunya telling the story of Frost, a harbinger for what comes later.

    Vasya is an enchanting rough and tumble girl, more at home in the wild outdoors and who chafes at the limitations pressed upo

    This is an atmospheric and intoxicating read that draws on history and Russian fairytales. Set in medieval times, it charts the origins of Vasya's birth and her mother's determination to have a daughter endowed with her grandmother's powers despite it meaning her death in childbirth. The novel begins with Dunya telling the story of Frost, a harbinger for what comes later.

    Vasya is an enchanting rough and tumble girl, more at home in the wild outdoors and who chafes at the limitations pressed upon her. She has the abilities of her grandmother and can see, hear and feel what others cannot. She communes with and feeds the protective guardian spirits of her home, stables, forests and water. She is fearless, brave, kind of spirit, generous and has a heart full of love. All is well until the arrival of Anna and the priest, Konstantin, begin to tear apart the community through fear, presaging the bitterest cold weather, crop failures, famine and death. A gifted jewel with magical properties proves to be a vital protective talisman for our Vasya.

    Anna, like Vasya, can see and hear what others cannot. However, this engenders terrifying fear in her and a zealous religious piety. Konstantin sees it as his duty to move the community to Christian beliefs and he achieves this by raising the fear factor. People begin to no longer value their spirits and guardians and abandon them. And as they wither and diminish, the dead stalk the living and the fortunes of the place hang in the balance. The only hope is Vasya, who by now is rumoured to be a witch who must be beaten into submission through marriage or convent. Neither is an acceptable option and Vasya enters the icy forest harbouring desperate fantastical dangers. Aided by the Winter King and Solovey, the nightingale, Vasya is to battle the bear for the soul of the world.

    This novel pierces humanity's Achilles heel to let us see how anger and fear allow people to let in the forces of destruction to wreak havoc. We only have to look at the world and see this is so. This is a richly imagined spellbinding novel that entrances the reader. It dwells on the themes of love, loss and what it is to be different. I understand there are to be two further books to come. I adored this story completely and urge others to read it. A brilliant book! Thanks to Random House Ebury for an ARC.

  • Elise (TheBookishActress)

    So this was... unexpectedly amazing. Somehow, I went into this thin

    So this was... unexpectedly amazing. Somehow, I went into this thinking it was a slow-paced, long-developing high fantasy novel, which is just completely untrue.

    , instead, is a compulsively bingeable, gorgeously written, and ridiculously compelling dark fairytale.

    Thinking back on this book, there are three things that stand out to me.

    Okay, first of all, this book has

    I can’t believe this is a debut, because the words just feel like they fly off the pages. But also, this is one of the most aestheticy books I have ever read and I

    it. It’s just all so intriguing and

    Wintrey setting. Magical forest. Fairy tale elements. Folklore gone right. Folklore gone wrong. Demons and dark creatures. Creatures somewhere in between.

    There’s an excellent cast of side characters; I’m a huge fan of Vasilisa’s sister and brother. Even the villains of the book, especially her stepmother, gained my sympathy; she is a fantastically compelling villain, so well-written that she becomes all the more sympathetic. But my favorite part of this whole book was Vasilisa and her character arc. She starts out a more naive character, young and treated well by her father, yet driven by her desire to be free and one with nature. But as the mistreatment by her stepmother grows, she becomes more and more determined to be free, which I found made for a

    compelling character arc. Thus, even when she’s not driving the plot, she feels like a major force in the book.

    is a dark fairytale, and like any good dark fairytale, it has a lot of meaning beneath the surface. This book deals primarily with religious oppression, and the way religion can be used for destruction. But it also deals with the specificity of the destruction of nature. Vasilisa's world is crumbling around her, and it's so difficult to witness. She loves this world so deeply. And just like our natural world, it is beginning to crumble.

    I don’t know how I’ll feel about

    , but I’m super excited based off where this ended. There’s a nice setup for some moral greyness, maybe, and I really like that the love interest is a death frost demon. No, really. Beautiful and terrifying, and with

    , I cannot recommend this enough.

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  • Melanie

    This book is magical. This book is whimsical. This book is one of the best things I’ve read in my entire life. I loved this with every bone, every red blood cell, every molecule in my body. This book was nothing short of perfection, and I’m sorry to gush, but I never expected this story to captivate me the way it did.

    This book is magical. This book is whimsical. This book is one of the best things I’ve read in my entire life. I loved this with every bone, every red blood cell, every molecule in my body. This book was nothing short of perfection, and I’m sorry to gush, but I never expected this story to captivate me the way it did.

    I’m not even sure where to begin with this story, but I guess I will start by saying that this story is a love letter to stories everywhere. This book is a mash-up retelling of many Russian fairy tales, but with unique spins of them, which are woven together to tell such a beautiful tale that makes me breathless just thinking about how expertly it is crafted.

    Vasilisa and her family live on the edge of the Russian wilderness. Vasilisa’s father rules these lands, and her mother died giving birth to her, knowing that she was special. Vasilisa was raised by her mother’s nursemaid, who is constantly telling her fairy tales that most Russians fear, but Vasilisa loves.

    Vasilisa soon realizes that she is indeed special, and that she can see creatures that most people cannot. And, again, instead of feeling fear, she feels compassion and befriends and takes care of all the different creatures that dwell on her lands.

    And even though Vasilisa’s family accepts her, the rest of the community cannot see past how different she is. Vasilisa’s father tries many different things to get her to want the same things most girls in this time want (marriage, babies, performing “womanly” duties), while Vasilisa only wants to be free and see the world.

    Meanwhile, there is a frost-demon that does everything to ensure him and Vasilisa’s paths cross. And Vasilisa couldn’t resist the urge to go to him even if she tried. Then a beautiful story unfolds about a girl, a nightingale, and a bear, who are destined to have a story told.

    Like I️ said, it’s now an all time favorite for me! I️ truly loved this story that much. It deserves all the praise, all the hype, and all the love.

    ✘ Feminist as all hell

    ✘ Magical forest

    ✘ All the morally grey characters

    ✘ Mythology and folklore

    ✘ Little fae folk saving the day

    ✘ Wintery setting

    And when I say that this is the perfect winter read, I mean it with everything that I am. Never have I ever read a better seasonal read. Please give this a try in the upcoming months. I promise you, you won’t regret it

    This book was nothing short of magical. From the lyrical prose, to the atmospheric town and forest, to the characters that constantly had me crying, to the message that girls can be anything they want to be, no matter what society tries to confine them to. This book is a tangible piece of heaven and I am so thankful that I was able to read this before the end of 2017, because it truly is a shining star in 2017 publications. I cannot wait to start my ARC of

    tonight!

    And this book is extra special to me, because this is the book that all the wonderful people at

    gave to me! Which makes it all the sweeter that it ended up being one of my favorite books of all time.

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  • karen

    this is a stunning debut that perfectly mimics the tone of a classic fairytale, but breathes new and exciting life into the familiar themes with lyrical writing, strong characters, and by weaving in elements of russian folklore, which were mostly unfamiliar to me, and therefore fresh and exotic.

    quickplot first, then i will return to these three strengths in greater detail.

    pyotr vladimirovich

    this is a stunning debut that perfectly mimics the tone of a classic fairytale, but breathes new and exciting life into the familiar themes with lyrical writing, strong characters, and by weaving in elements of russian folklore, which were mostly unfamiliar to me, and therefore fresh and exotic.

    quickplot first, then i will return to these three strengths in greater detail.

    pyotr vladimirovich is a lord in medieval rus', responsible for the well-being of several villages in the heavily-forested wilderness, subject to his late wife marina's half-brother, the grand prince in moscow. he has five children, the youngest of which is a daughter named vasilisa/vasya, whose birth caused marina's death. it was a risky, late pregnancy, but marina was determined to have her, knowing that vasya would be her only child gifted with the magical birthright held by her bloodline's women. vasya grows up with a curious mind and a wandering nature - dressing like a boy, drawn to exploring the forest, and befriending the house spirits the villagers all leave ritual offerings for, in a long-standing superstitious tradition, but which only she is able to see. it's a hard life, with food shortages during the long cold winters, and vasya's latent power attracts the attention of morozko, an old spirit personifying the relentless cold known by many different appellations: demon of winter, death-god, frost demon, winter-king. when pyotr is in moscow arranging his daughter olga's marriage, and unexpectedly finding himself married off to an equally-reluctant bride as a political favor, morozko is insulted by one of pyotr's sons, whom he allows to live in exchange for the promise of vasya's hand in marriage. this arrangement dismays vasya's nurse dunya, who tries to put it off as long as possible, and it is more or less forgotten as time passes and more pressing concerns arise, specifically the influence of an ambitious priest, adored by vasya's stepmother, who forbids the villagers to continue their practice of acknowledging the household spirits, which results in horrors only vasya has the power to prevent.

    arden's writing is the book's strongest selling point: evocative, beautifully descriptive, imagery that pops with details alive enough to make you smell the smoke and feel the cold; it's haunting, vivid, and poetic. when pyotr and his sons leave their village in order to meet with their royal relative in moscow, they encounter

    described as

    occasionally, it can get a little

    adjective-crazed:

    but for the most part, it is well-controlled .

    character is also an easy sell - vasilisa, like all of the best fairytale heroines, is the inheritor of a great responsibility; the fulfillment of a prophecy that is equal parts burden and gift. her wildness is part of her appeal; power and freedom and all the beauty and mystery of nature:

    she doesn't know the extent of her powers, or even that she

    powers, but they can be felt by others, like her father, who understands that the ordinary roles available to women; wife and mother, would ruin something essential to her character.

    even the priest konstantin is drawn to her, despite his severity towards her, and laments the future he is nonetheless pushing her towards:

    for me, the themes were equally fascinating - i'm always drawn to books focused on transitional periods; clashes between tradition and modernity, the old ways and the new. one of the best of these is

    by barry unsworth, which is about a troupe of actors in the 1300's who dared perform a play that wasn't based upon biblical events and the uneasiness and backlash this causes. while christianity was by no means new to medieval rus', the confrontation here between religion and tradition is devastating, made more so by the fact that the offerings to the house spirits, followed by the villagers as a tradition with no real belief behind them, turn out to be all that is holding the evil at bay.

    a beautiful debut, and i'm very excited to see what else she's got in the works.

  • Emily May

    Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a tale no less compelling for its slow, gradual development. Like all the best fairy tales, the author draws on the setting - a village in the northern woods of Rus' - to create an atmosphere that

    is the key word here:

    captures that feeling of uncertainty and superstition

    Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a tale no less compelling for its slow, gradual development. Like all the best fairy tales, the author draws on the setting - a village in the northern woods of Rus' - to create an atmosphere that

    is the key word here:

    captures that feeling of uncertainty and superstition. The characters are somewhere between the old and the new; believing in modern religion but still deeply tied to the stories of old - the creatures that hide in the dark, the demons lurking in corners, the spirits living in the woods.

    The protagonist is Vasya, a feisty, stubborn girl who always manages to find her way into adventure and, often, trouble. Quick-witted and rebellious, it's hard not to fall in love with her instantly. There's a sense throughout that she is at one with nature, belonging to the very setting of the novel - the wild, rugged landscape of her youth. She is most at home when running and playing in the woods.

    When her father remarries and brings Vasya's intense and devout new stepmother back to their village, the safety of everyone is threatened. Her stepmother refuses to appease the creatures of the forest and darkness creeps ever closer. The arrival of a young priest who challenges the people's belief in the old spirits endangers them further. It is Vasya - and her own strange gifts - who is the family's only chance against the evil spirits at work.

    ; one so deeply atmospheric that you can almost feel the cold air on your skin as you're reading.

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  • Em (RunawayWithDreamthieves)

    There’s a weirdly intense spot in my heart occupied by so much love and appreciation for lushly written magical tales imbued with the feel of centuries-old fairy tales. There’s just something extremely entrancing about this breed of fantasy that delves deep into the origins of storytelling and employs the stone foundation of fairytales to tell a story that is at once comforting and familiar as well as subversive, vibrant and new.

    This book shares the same DNA as Naomi Novik’s marvelously brillian

    There’s a weirdly intense spot in my heart occupied by so much love and appreciation for lushly written magical tales imbued with the feel of centuries-old fairy tales. There’s just something extremely entrancing about this breed of fantasy that delves deep into the origins of storytelling and employs the stone foundation of fairytales to tell a story that is at once comforting and familiar as well as subversive, vibrant and new.

    This book shares the same DNA as Naomi Novik’s marvelously brilliant

    , and

    : the three tales all center on young women who are stronger than they know and their monster-later-turned-ally who aren’t as monstrous as everyone think they are. It’s a premise that appeals to me so much, which is why this book worked so well for me!

    The people of a village in northern Russia have lived with the certainty that demons move through their world like they move through their words, disasters beyond its boundaries, and Vasilisa Petrovna—youngest child of a wealthy boyar and heir to ancient magic—has lived with the burden of it. Vasilisa can see spirits, the creatures of hearth, lake, stable and woods who protect her town and its people, and she kept this truth like a bird that she was worried of frightening away—until her father brings home a new bride who fears the wood spirits she can also see and forbids Vasya any communion with them.

    Not long after, a young, arrogant priest is sent to her village, ready to prod and stoke the rumors about demons, using it as his most powerful weapon because it is the villagers’ most potent fear, until they turn away from their old ways. When the people fail to pay the tithe that kept the spirits from fading, the crops wither away and the wolves creep close to the village and when Vasya’s many attempts to keep the old magical protections in place fall through, the townspeople all sought to repair the fault in the world by demanding to put her out of it.

    But the worst nightmare they could hope to conjure for Vasya would pale beside the one that already lived in the woods—blasted, hungry and more terrible than the Winter King himself—and that wanted Vasya and all she holds dear.

    is a very atmospheric, sprawling yet so deftly-crafted fairy tale that ticks all my reading boxes: witchcraft, magic, and history. It’s a gorgeous novel, grounded in Russian folklore but richly overlaid with an immersive, creative story of its own, and rendered in languorous and sensuous prose. The characters are ice and fire; they bite and fight and delight all at once. The plot moves with a slow grace, gradually building a world encroached by darkness and creeping inch by dreadful inch towards a freshly hideous future—unless the stalwart heroine, whose fate seems sealed to a provincial life but is suddenly uprooted, saves it.

    The author pours just enough nuance into each character to make them feel real in the moment, breaking them out of the trope mold and shaping them into something entirely unique. And it’s that delicate touch that keeps the novel from becoming relentlessly bleak. Vasya holds the spirit of a girl backed up to the world’s edge, ready to spread her arms like wings and fly or fall. She’s always refused to go along, to make herself small enough to slip past a looming danger, to stay quiet and unobtrusive; she no sooner thought a thing than said it, or wanted a thing than she tried to get it. Her fierce determination kindles. It’s always there, always smoldering, and it doesn’t take much to set it alight. I love how insatiable she was in her thirst for the extraordinary, how she didn’t settle for the mediocre and how her journey was about growing and becoming a more magnified, specific version of herself.

    was an interesting character as well—he and Vasya are so tangled in my mind, all blood and vengeance and strife, and I rooted for them.

    Moreover, I liked how this book captures the richness of relationships among family and friends, explores human and alien social structures, fathers and daughters, damaged relationships and hidden agendas and wrings out many lessons from unexpected consequences. It’s also refreshing to find a book where characters don’t fall in immediate, all-consuming, passionately forbidden love; each character by itself was a brittle, sharp-edged fragment, and they didn’t seek to palliate or soften their jagged edges to make a whole—and I like it that way.

    Overall,

    is a gorgeous medieval fable that blossoms into a thoughtful, emotionally complex tale. Every night, I would tell myself I’d just read a few chapters, and every night I’d blow past that because I simply couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended!

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  • Candace

    Hmm... I'm at a loss with this one. I can't say that I loved it, but I didn't dislike it either. I feel like I'm missing something. This is a story that I should probably go back and re-read at a time when I can give it my full attention...but I didn't feel a strong enough connection the first time around to make me want to do that.

    When I listen to an audiobook, I'm usually doing something else that requires part of my attention (i.e. driving). For this reason, I try to keep my audiobook select

    Hmm... I'm at a loss with this one. I can't say that I loved it, but I didn't dislike it either. I feel like I'm missing something. This is a story that I should probably go back and re-read at a time when I can give it my full attention...but I didn't feel a strong enough connection the first time around to make me want to do that.

    When I listen to an audiobook, I'm usually doing something else that requires part of my attention (i.e. driving). For this reason, I try to keep my audiobook selections pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this book proved to be too detailed for me to follow in that format. I ended up having to "rewind" several times to reorient myself because I'd find myself completely lost.

    'The Bear and the Nightingale' ended up being a bit too complicated of a story for me to take in via audiobook. There were details and connections that I'm sure I missed. The fact that I didn't understand some of the Russian words and wasn't able to look them up at the time, certainly contributed to my bewilderment.

    In a nutshell, the story dealt with religious persecution as the "old gods" and religions were being pushed out by Christianity. The story is set in medieval Russia and the imagery crafted by the author was beautiful. Even when I was admittedly lost, I greatly enjoyed the detailed descriptions provided.

    The heroine, Vasya, had special abilities and represented "good" in this book. Her mother was determined to have her, even knowing that she would sacrifice her own life. As a result, Vasya grows up to be resented by her father in a way.

    When her father decides to remarry, largely in an attempt to tame the spirited Vasya, a political marriage is arranged to Anna. Anna had planned to become a nun and religion is a very large part of her identity. To say the least, she ended up being a nightmare for Vasya.

    When the self-righteous Anna teams up with the fear-mongering priest, Konstantin, nobody is safe. Let the witch hunts begin!

    Meanwhile, Vasya is given a protective talisman. She is tied to "Frost", the winter demon king. Through their abilities and old "magic" the two are interconnected. -- I won't lie. I am hazy on the details here.

    In many ways, this story was intriguing. At some point, I might give it another try because I'm certain that I missed a great deal. I had a hard time staying focused on this story, not because it was bad, but because I was preoccupied. Nonetheless, it ended up being a "good but not great" read for me this time around. It just didn't keep my attention.

    Check out more of my reviews at

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