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Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

March 14, 2017

25489134The Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden
Penguin Random House
January 2017
Review copy via NetGalley, in exchange for honest, if much-belated, review)

I took forever to read this. Which is not at all an indictment of the book’s quality.

I enjoyed it any time I picked it up. The way that the story moves in and out of Russian folklore, with stories nesting within stories, lends itself beautifully to stopping and savoring. I would pick it up, read and enjoy the imagery, the lyrical language, the tensions between the old gods and myths and the encroaching Christian religion… and then I would set it down. At times, for weeks, even months, while I zoomed through other books.

All of this lends itself rather nicely to savoring a lovely set of interwoven tales based on Russian folklore.

And definitely lends itself less well to writing a timely review of a book I received an advance copy of through NetGalley. Whoops.

I enjoyed this book and its stories on a number of levels. Lovely language, lush images that I could picture easily… the myth-infused atmosphere of the household and remote Russian village. Even the complex family relationships: a beloved first wife, mourned after her death, a second wife devoted to the new Christian religion and frightened by the mythic elements of the home tradition, children who grow up and want to choose their own paths, and a father who wants peace and prosperity for all his household, even if those choices take his children far away, and into roles he wouldn’t have hoped for them. The most interesting aspect might have been the tensions between folklore and encroaching Christianity, personified by the priest and by the mythical nature spirits who became characters in their own right.

The rich sense of atmosphere, wintry and magical, was part of what kept me reading this in tiny bites. At first, I thought I didn’t want to start it before winter got really properly wintry… I delved into reading a nice, cozy stretch right around Christmas, and that was perfect. It’s a good book to have in the lead-up to the winter holidays.

And then winter got cold and, well, wintry, and I set the book aside for more escapist reads. Only to decide that icy rain and snow were a perfect accompaniment for reading about magic and old Russian gods of winter and icy palaces. I finished the last half of the book today, while on a snow day.And it worked wonderfully.

I enjoyed savoring this book, and I think you will too.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 14, 2017 8:28 pm

    I’ve got this on TBR shelf at the moment, but I’m thinking I better get to it before all the snow melts!

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