Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Bear And The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In the depths of rural Russia, winter comes early and stays late.  Vasilisa is the daughter of the local landowner and her mother is royalty.  She dies in childbirth having Vasilisa so she is raised by the nurse/housekeeper.  From her, she learns all the old tales of folklore and about all the benevolent creatures that guard those who feed and accommodate them.

Vasilisa's father goes to the capital to find another wife.  On his journey home, he encounters a man who saves him from danger and gives him a necklace for his beautiful daughter.  The father is unsure if this is something he wants to do but feels trapped.  On his return with his new wife, life becomes different and unhappy for Vasilisa.  Her new stepmother is very religious and brings in a stern priest who declares that everyone is doomed unless they give up their old superstitions.  She also tries to tame Vasilisa who is a tomboy, roaming the forests and riding horses like a man.

The priest is determined to break Vasilisa as she is the source of strength for those who oppose him.  Much of his determination is his intense attraction to her, which he turns into a belief that she has trapped him with magic.  He declares her evil but when the evil figures of the past come to take the entire village, only Visilisa may have the strength and knowledge to save her family and friends.

This is a debut novel that introduces a stunning new talent.  Arden's book weaves an enchanting tale full of Russian folklore, good and evil, lust and love.  The villains are bloodcurdling and life is hard.  Visilisa is a strong woman who refuses to be tamed but who is willing to do anything for the family she loves.  This book is recommended for fantasy and literary fiction readers.

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