Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Random House for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purpose of review**


This is a book I was invited to read, having previously been allowed the privilege to read (and love) an ARC of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, one of my favourite books that I read in 2015. And this book is pitched for lovers of Uprooted as well as Erin Morgenstern’s brilliant novel, The Night Circus. What these two novels both have in common is distinctly lyrical writing styles, enchanting settings and magic, an array of interesting characters, and plots that are, ultimately, playing second fiddle to all of that; they’re magical fairy tale-esque stories that do not require you to look at their plots. In fact, if you do, the entire thing might start to unravel and you’ll suddenly lose the magic.

The Bear and the Nightingale is similar in that regard, though it draws its fairytale from Russia. There is some beautiful writing and an array of characters, including a female protagonist who’s primary adversary in the story is the expectations of the male-dominated culture in which she lives. Every man she encounters views her more as some kind of object than a human being: she is a prize to be won, an animal to be tamed and/or bred — I think we all get the idea. Is it frustrating to read? Yes. Is that the point? Yes. Vasya, our protagonist, has no desire to be viewed this way and spends the majority of the book trying to find a way to make her own way in this world. If there’s one thing I may object to on this point, it’s that the author chooses to describe Vasya like some kind of wild animal — “untamed filly” is used a lot — and when it’s not in the perspective of the men around Vasya, it feels like it undermines the idea that I, as the reader, am not meant to objectify Vasya in this manner. This is a small note, and perhaps it is just me, but I continued to notice this phrase and other’s like it in a way that I found distracting.

The folklore in this story is very well-done; I will tip my hat to the inclusion of a Lord of Frost character because I am a sucker for characters like that. And the instances with the eponymous bear were absolutely wonderful. But this is not a quick book. The fairytale moves at its own pace and I often found myself getting antsy while reading. I do not think this is necessarily a fault of the writing, but more of me, the reader. I like fairytales, don’t get me wrong, but I am not the kind of person who gets particularly excited for every new book that claims to be taking on a fairytale spin — especially since, right now, there seems to be an abundance of those being published each and every day.

If you’re the type of person who loves a fantastical, fairytale-like story, this book is absolutely right up your alley. I recommend reading it on a cold day, wrapped up in a blanket, with a hot cup of tea and some biscuits.

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