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, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.
The Bear and the Nightingale was sold to me as a book perfect for lovers of Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Uprooted was my absolute favorite book last year and is now my go-to answer for when someone asks me the question, "What is your favorite book?" I devoured this book in two sittings and now I'm struggling to put into words my feelings about it.
I was enchanted by the writing in this book, it is descriptive and immersive. It takes place in the cold of Russian winters, and despite being in the South in August, I could almost feel a chill in the air. This book is a fantasy, but it is very much contained in the real world, with references to Russian history throughout.
Vasya is a heroine straining against the constraints of womanhood. She is wild, fae, and enchanting. She is defiant and strong. While I loved Vasya, I did tire of her being described multiple times as a "young, untamed filly." A woman is not a horse, and although I understand the purpose of the author describing her as such through the eyes of men, it got a tad frustrating. Men in this book view women as either prizes to be won, horses to be tamed, or cows to be bred—which was as frustrating to me as it was to Vasya. Even the king of Winter sees her as a tool to be used, although there is a hint of something more.
For a book richly steeped in folklore, the magic in the book is incredibly subtle. Vasya spends her childhood interacting with the chyeri in her home and the woods near her, but it isn't until she is faced with an impossible task that the magic of the world is truly revealed.
I look forward to reading more of Katherine Arden's writing in the future, and I hope this isn't the last we see of Vasya.
Thank you for reading!