Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title The Bear and the Nightingale
Author Katherine Arden
Format Kindle Edition
Page Length 336
Publication Date 10 Jan 2017
Publisher Del Rey / Ebury
Read Dates 3-17 Sep 2017
Rating 6.82792 stars – Golden Pip!

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…


HAVE ALL THE STARS! This book deserves them. My god, what a masterpiece.

No, you overreact a lot. When I originally started to read this, I struggled with the first 30%. I thought that maybe I didn’t really enjoy the beginning due to my mindset and where I was at (as can sometimes be the case), so I decided to go back to the beginning and start again. I am so glad I did because I fell in love with this book. I did the same thing with Ferrero Rocher – I had one once and didn’t think much of them, then I had another and now it should be the law that I own all Ferrero Rocher and nobody should question it. Anyway, I do digress. Gather round people, lend me your ears eyes and let me tell you for why I liked this book so much.

Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing, and weep for a nightingale.

The Bear and the Nightingale is best summed up by the words of the author – “A book set in Russia in the middle ages and is a mix of actual history and Slavic folklore”. The story follows Vasilisa Petrovna (or Vasya for short) – the daughter of Lord Pyotr Vladimirovich. During the time this is set, Christianity is still relatively new to these lands, and when a new priest arrives into the village there is inevitably conflict between this new(ish) god and the old gods. Actually, they are nature spirits rather than gods, but you get the point. The story doesn’t take the typical, somewhat easy route of a split townsfolk warring against each other and instead focusses on what happens to the nature spirits when people start to forget about them. NEWSFLASH – it ain’t good for them. You see, they do good. And when they are forgotten about, they fade away and can no longer do good.

Dread settled over the village: a clinging, muttering dread, tenacious as cobwebs.

I think Vasya may just be the greatest character to have ever been written ever not even slightly exaggerating!! I LOVE her so much (in a purely platonic manner). I’m trying to avoid referring to her as a ‘strong, independent, female character’ because quite frankly that just doesn’t do her justice. She is so much more than that. I heard Katherine Arden read a deleted scene in which Vasya was referred to as being particularly ugly. Her father refers to her as being a ‘forest imp’ and that term sums her up so well! Throughout the story we see that Pyotr marries off his children when they come of age (as was the norm at the time). Vasya has no aspirations to get married to a wealthy Prince or Lord (despite her sister reminding her how wonderful such a thing would be). Instead, she wants to live in the forest, and spend her days gathering food and climbing trees and digging in dirt, and I feel so at one with her. She spends her days riding horses and communing with nature spirits… wait, what?! Oh yea, did I also mention, she can see nature spirits that other people can’t see and talks to her horses – they also talk back, she’s not just a rambling mad woman (although, that is how the other villagers would see her). In my head, Vasya is ace, but I don’t think it is ever confirmed or referenced in the novel. I’d be interested to see if the author has ever discussed this.

I particularly enjoyed the conversations between Vasya and her siblings, and Vasya and the priest. Vasya is witty, clever, funny and caring but can be rather savage at times. Her ability to deliver a thud of cold hard truth was so satisfying. Several times I was internally shouting YEAH, YOU TELL HIM! like some kind of Vasya team cheerleader, just with a lot more beard, and my wrists are much more sexy than that of the average cheerleader.

“I go to church, Father,” she replied. “Anna Ivanovna is not my mother, nor is her madness my business. Just as my soul is not yours. And it seems to me we did very well before you came; for if we prayed less, we also wept less.”

give me a V… give me an A….

Okay, enough Vasya love there will never be enough Vasya love, I will not be silenced! and let’s talk about Arden’s writing style because by the gods this woman writes magical sentences. As I was reading I kept thinking ’Oh, that’s a really good sentence’ and ’wow that’s beautiful’. I seriously can only hope to someday write with such strength and beauty. Just as one tiny example, look at this:

His voice was like snow at midnight.

I mean, come on! Who even thinks to write like that. Bloody Katherine Arden does, that’s who. I doff my hat to you miss – I am in awe.

I loved the setting. It’s dark, brooding, cold, and harsh. The weather is described in such a way that it feels much more powerful and important than usual. Throughout the book we are reminded of how hard it is to live in this environment. It’s easy to see how people didn’t survive the winter. It’s easy to forget in our modern age that there was a time when if you did not prepare for the winter, you simply died.

The plot was great. I was invested throughout and the ending is really satisfying (although, there was one death I wanted that didn’t happen *shakes fist in the air*). I believe there is another book due out soon, and then there will be a third and I CANNOT WAIT JUST GIVE THEM TO ME ALREADY!

If you have this book on your TBR just do yourself a favour and read it already. It’s bloody marvellous and I will fight you if you say otherwise (I won’t fight you. I will simply respect your right to be wrong).

Sometimes if I read a kindle version of a book (as I did in this case) and I really like it (as you may have guessed I did in this case), I will then buy a physical copy to have on my bookshelf. And LOOK AT THIS COVER – as if there is even a chance I ain’t going to have a hardback copy of this on my shelf soon.

Anyway, I’m off to bake some bread and then bury it in the garden as an offering to the old gods. Peace and Love.

LINKSGoodreads | Amazon UK | Amazon US


  1. I have this one on tbr list and I’ve heard so many good things about it… ‘his voice being like at midnight’ is actually something I can easily imagine and it’s fantastic… I remember visiting home some years ago during midwinter and found myself outside at midnight’s peace with fluffy white snow falling… what a setting! kind of felt like vacuum but at the same time you can hear the silence… and the sound of snow falling…
    anyway! Your love for Vasya is great and I think the fact she speaks to forest spirits is mega! In Estonia we also believe in all sorts of spirits so I can see myself enjoying this! Thank you for this fab review 👌 bumping the book up on my tbr pile!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      Your experience with midnight snowfall sounds blissful. I try to take the time to consciously appreciate situations like that.
      The author was talking in an interview about how in Slavic folklore there are spirits for pretty much everything. It sounded wonderful. I don’t know much about Slavic folklore but I’m damn sure gonna change that soon. I hope you enjoy the book, I think it is your sort of story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂 I can’t say I have ‘met’ a lot of people who would consider being conscious about such moments, but it sure is good to know there are some out there… I remember telling some folks about my nature experiences and have been met with confused stares… but you know, their loss 🙂
        I just checked up Estonian folklore as well and apparently we have a flying house elf 😀 I mean, I knew of house elfs, but didn’t know they were flying ones… hahaha. I agree, folklore is so interesting and I will find myself googling more about it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh I love going on meditation walks in the woods. A quiet walk alone where I make the effort to pay attention to and appreciate what is happening around me in nature. Such a thing is great for the soul!
        Flying house elf sounds epic! How do I commune with such a thing?! Haha. I’m going to have to find a book or two on Estonian folklore now. 😀


  2. Oh gosh I’ve heard so many phenomenal things about this book- I really need to read it!! Awesome review- you’ve got me even more excited about this than I already was (which I would have thought was impossible cos I was already pretty darn excited 😉 )


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