The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden Review

A photo of the novel The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden book review
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, ISBN9781785031052, 456pp

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a book that I’ve been seeing everywhere for a long time. I’ve wanted to read it forever. But for some reason it took me ages to pick it up. Then I saw it for sale in a little book store in Thailand when I was on holiday and it seemed like the time was finally right to buy it. So, I did.

I don’t know why I hesitated to read this book. I’ve always loved books based on fairy tales, folklore, myths or legends. Perhaps it was the Russian setting. I’ve struggled in the past with books set in Russia, usually because of the character names. I find with Russian names that the characters will have one name and then a nickname. This can make it confusing to keep track of who is who. But I do love a Russian setting with all that ice and snow.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a story based on Russian folklore with a stream of magic running through it. It tells the tale of a young girl named Vasya, the youngest in a noble family who live on the edge of the wilderness in northern Russia. She is wild and unruly and her mother died giving birth to her.

Vasya can see things that other people can’t see like the spirits of the woods and the household who her people leave offerings out for. But there are dark forces gathering in the woods who threaten to destroy Vasya’s village and her family. Further problems arise when a new priest comes to live in the village and when Vasya gets a new stepmother who is terrified of all the things that Vasya can see.

I’ll leave the plot there to avoid spoilers. The Bear and the Nightingale was a beautifully written book… BUT it took me a while to get into it. I just had trouble getting into the rhythm of the writing. So, it was a slow start for me. But once I got into the writing, the Russian names and phrases and the plot, I felt myself swept away by the story. It’s a very lyrical, wintry read. As I read it, I felt the cold and the frost. This book was more like a long, literary fairy tale than a page turner.

I don’t know if I will read book two and three of this series. I was happy enough reading The Bear and the Nightingale, but I don’t feel compelled to rush out and buy the other books. If you have read The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch and highly recommend them, please let me know.

Here’s a tip — there’s a glossary of Russian terms in the back of the novel. I only discovered this when I got to the end. It would have been helpful knowing this as I read it. The glossary gives explanations for the Russian terms used throughout the novel.

Verdict: A beautiful, wintry folklore tale set in northern Russia.



11 thoughts on “The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden Review

  1. Claire @bookscoffeeandrepeat May 16, 2019 / 9:29 am

    Honestly, same. While I liked the first book, I’m not in a rush to read the sequel. Fortunately, all the books are available to read rn. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads May 16, 2019 / 10:28 am

      It’s good to hear that you agree with me. I thought I might be in the minority.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Claire @bookscoffeeandrepeat May 16, 2019 / 11:41 am

        It does feel like an unpopular opinion! 🙈

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Em May 16, 2019 / 1:47 pm

    The trilogy is one of my most beloved … And I will rave about it to anyone who listens! Of the three books, Winter of the Witch was my absolute favourite. All the lines came together so beautifully, and Vasya experiences some momentous character growth. The primary themes — loyalty, family, finding a middle ground — are wonderful.

    The Girl in the Tower shines as a middle-of-a-triology book — and offers a nice commentary on feminism and women’s rights. It wasn’t my favourite of the three … but, I’m currently in the middle of a re-read and love it more than I remember.

    That said: Book 1 can stand well enough as a stand-alone. I’ve re-(re-re-)read it a number of times without tackling the later books … I have a paperback version which I often bring on flights.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads May 16, 2019 / 1:49 pm

      Thanks for your helpful reply. It sounds like the rest of the trilogy is worth reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Em May 16, 2019 / 2:08 pm

        Yay!! Can’t wait to hear what you think!!! 😀 The audiobooks are also fab … the narrator has a wicked Russian accent!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Emma's Library May 16, 2019 / 7:59 pm

    Yeah, I always felt like I was happy reading The Bear and the Nightingale as a standalone. However, I do have the other two books now so I’m thinking I might as well read them, especially as I liked Vasya so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads May 16, 2019 / 8:01 pm

      Let me know how book 2 and 3 go. I’d like to read them one day but I’m not in a huge hurry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Emma's Library May 16, 2019 / 8:05 pm

        I might be reading them pretty soon so I will do! I’ve never been in a huge rush to read them either but I feel like now is the time for me to pick them up and see whether all the hype is deserved.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. tympest June 14, 2019 / 9:14 am

    I think I have this one as an ebook. Reading this, I think I want to wait and read it when the weather cools down a little.

    Liked by 1 person

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