The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid ni...

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Title:The Bear and the Nightingale
Author:Katherine Arden
Rating:
ISBN:1101885939
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:322 pages

The Bear and the Nightingale Reviews

  • Robin Hobb
    Jul 29, 2015

    Just finished reading an ARC of this forthcoming book. You will have to wait until 201 to get your hands on it.

    First, a metaphor. Have you ever been about to eat something, thinking it's flavored with vanilla and cinnamon? Then you bite into it and discover ginger and nutmeg (also favorites of mine.)

    This book is a bit like that. It's fantasy. Okay, I've read lots of that. It's told rather like a fairy tale. Okay, ready for that.

    It's told a bit like a Russian fairy tale only the setting is very

    Just finished reading an ARC of this forthcoming book. You will have to wait until 201 to get your hands on it.

    First, a metaphor. Have you ever been about to eat something, thinking it's flavored with vanilla and cinnamon? Then you bite into it and discover ginger and nutmeg (also favorites of mine.)

    This book is a bit like that. It's fantasy. Okay, I've read lots of that. It's told rather like a fairy tale. Okay, ready for that.

    It's told a bit like a Russian fairy tale only the setting is very grounded in a reality that will leave your nose and toes chilled and make you wish a horse like that would come your way.

    That's as close as I'm coming to a spoiler. You deserve to read this book so the story unfolds page by page. Put it on your shopping list.

  • Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ Rabid Reads
    Jan 12, 2017

    I added another new bookshelf to Goodreads: religious nutters

    I preface my review with that statement, b/c it's important that you know exactly how off-putting I find anyone who uses religion as a crutch to excuse their abominable behavior.

    Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter to ensure favorable winds as he sails to Troy? Kill him on his own alter. Spanish Inquisitioners torturing anyone not Catholic for the glory of God? Burn them at the stake. The KKK claiming th

    I added another new bookshelf to Goodreads: religious nutters

    I preface my review with that statement, b/c it's important that you know exactly how off-putting I find anyone who uses religion as a crutch to excuse their abominable behavior.

    Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter to ensure favorable winds as he sails to Troy? Kill him on his own alter. Spanish Inquisitioners torturing anyone not Catholic for the glory of God? Burn them at the stake. The KKK claiming that a darker skin tone is the mark of Cain to justify their prejudice and hate? String them up in their own front yard. #noimnotkidding

    And I have to tell you, if it wasn't for that insufferable jackass Konstantin and the witch-hunting frenzy he worked his congregation into, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE would have easily been a 4+ star read.

    I loved Vasya and (most of) her family. I was nearly as heartbroken as her father when Sasha left to become a monk. I felt Olga's frustration and amusement at her younger sister who refused to be tamed. And when that creep Karil made eyes at Vasya, I clenched my fists and ground my teeth along with Alyosha.

    More than the characters, I loved the folklore. The house spirits, the nature fae, the pagan gods . . . Vasya's world was steeped in fantastical creatures. The vodianoy who stole Kolya's basket of freshly caught fish, the rusalka who agreed to stop drowning men from the village in exchange for friendship and fresh blossoms, and the vazila who taught Vasya to speak to horses are a mere fraction of what Arden's Rus' has to offer.

    And if the villains in this tale had been limited to an evil stepmother and a dark god, it would've been my perfect read.

    BUT. Religion. Christianity, to be specific, hellbent on choking the life out of everything not equally Christian, and how is this best accomplished? Fear and intimidation, naturally. Also blame. It's important to have an unconventional woman at hand, the better to accuse of witchcraft when the opportunity inevitably presents itself. *flares nostrils*

    I'm not trying to discredit this tactic as a viable plot device, I'm just explaining my hatred of it. It's 100% a personal preference, which is why I have zero qualms about recommending THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE to anyone who interested in reading this type of folklore-influenced fantasy. YES, even those rare individuals who hate religious nutters as much as I do--apparently, this is the first book in a trilogy, and as I'm relatively confident that said issue is resolved, which means the next book has even greater potential for awesome.

    Looking forward to it.

  • karen
    Jan 10, 2017

    this is a stunning debut that perfectly mimics the tone of a classic fairytale, but breathes new and exciting life into the familiar themes with lyrical writing, strong characters, and by weaving in elements of russian folklore, which were mostly unfamiliar to me, and therefore fresh and exotic.

    quickplot first, then i will return to these three strengths in greater detail.

    pyotr vladimirovich is a lord in medieval rus', responsible for the well-being of several villages in the heavily-forested wi

    this is a stunning debut that perfectly mimics the tone of a classic fairytale, but breathes new and exciting life into the familiar themes with lyrical writing, strong characters, and by weaving in elements of russian folklore, which were mostly unfamiliar to me, and therefore fresh and exotic.

    quickplot first, then i will return to these three strengths in greater detail.

    pyotr vladimirovich is a lord in medieval rus', responsible for the well-being of several villages in the heavily-forested wilderness, subject to his late wife marina's half-brother, the grand prince in moscow. he has five children, the youngest of which is a daughter named vasilisa/vasya, whose birth caused marina's death. it was a risky, late pregnancy, but marina was determined to have her, knowing that vasya would be her only child gifted with the magical birthright held by her bloodline's women. vasya grows up with a curious mind and a wandering nature - dressing like a boy, drawn to exploring the forest, and befriending the house spirits the villagers all leave ritual offerings for, in a long-standing superstitious tradition, but which only she is able to see. it's a hard life, with food shortages during the long cold winters, and vasya's latent power attracts the attention of morozko, an old spirit personifying the relentless cold known by many different appellations: demon of winter, death-god, frost demon, winter-king. when pyotr is in moscow arranging his daughter olga's marriage, and unexpectedly finding himself married off to an equally-reluctant bride as a political favor, morozko is insulted by one of pyotr's sons, whom he allows to live in exchange for the promise of vasya's hand in marriage. this arrangement dismays vasya's nurse dunya, who tries to put it off as long as possible, and it is more or less forgotten as time passes and more pressing concerns arise, specifically the influence of an ambitious priest, adored by vasya's stepmother, who forbids the villagers to continue their practice of acknowledging the household spirits, which results in horrors only vasya has the power to prevent.

    arden's writing is the book's strongest selling point: evocative, beautifully descriptive, imagery that pops with details alive enough to make you smell the smoke and feel the cold; it's haunting, vivid, and poetic. when pyotr and his sons leave their village in order to meet with their royal relative in moscow, they encounter

    described as

    occasionally, it can get a little

    adjective-crazed:

    but for the most part, it is well-controlled .

    character is also an easy sell - vasilisa, like all of the best fairytale heroines, is the inheritor of a great responsibility; the fulfillment of a prophecy that is equal parts burden and gift. her wildness is part of her appeal; power and freedom and all the beauty and mystery of nature:

    she doesn't know the extent of her powers, or even that she

    powers, but they can be felt by others, like her father, who understands that the ordinary roles available to women; wife and mother, would ruin something essential to her character.

    even the priest konstantin is drawn to her, despite his severity towards her, and laments the future he is nonetheless pushing her towards:

    for me, the themes were equally fascinating - i'm always drawn to books focused on transitional periods; clashes between tradition and modernity, the old ways and the new. one of the best of these is

    by barry unsworth, which is about a troupe of actors in the 1300's who dared perform a play that wasn't based upon biblical events and the uneasiness and backlash this causes. while christianity was by no means new to medieval rus', the confrontation here between religion and tradition is devastating, made more so by the fact that the offerings to the house spirits, followed by the villagers as a tradition with no real belief behind them, turn out to be all that is holding the evil at bay.

    a beautiful debut, and i'm very excited to see what else she's got in the works.

  • Hannah
    Nov 17, 2016

    Do you know that fuzzy feeling when you find a book with a world so immersive that you don't want it to ever end? This was a book like that for me. I absolutely adored it - and I am not quite sure if this review will at all be coherent, but I'll try my best.

    This was a book that I was super super excited to get to read early. I love books set in Russia, especially the North of Russia; I love Fairy Tales; I love the books the blurb compared it to. I only wanted to read the first chapter because I

    Do you know that fuzzy feeling when you find a book with a world so immersive that you don't want it to ever end? This was a book like that for me. I absolutely adored it - and I am not quite sure if this review will at all be coherent, but I'll try my best.

    This was a book that I was super super excited to get to read early. I love books set in Russia, especially the North of Russia; I love Fairy Tales; I love the books the blurb compared it to. I only wanted to read the first chapter because I have loads of unfinished books already but I was immediately drawn in and did not feel like reading anything else. I absolutely devoured it and when I came up again I was a bit sad that the book wasn't longer (especially because the last 3% were the glossary so the book ended a good 15 pages before I thought it would!). That so rarely happens with me!

    The book tells the story of Vasya, a child whose mother was a bit other-worldly and who died giving birth to her. Vasya is different herself, being able to converse with household-spirits that nobody else can see. In true fairy tale fashion, her father remarries and the stepmother is, well not exactly evil, but one of the main antagonistic forces of this story. In a world where the new Christian beliefs are at odds with the older, heathen beliefs, this conflict comes to a head when a new priest is appointed to their little village and sets into motion a series of events that will have the heroine come face to face with arcane powers.

    Set in the North of Russia with its seemingly ever-lasting winter, the author creates an atmosphere so believable, and enchanting, and surreal, and creepy, and beautiful, I could picture it every step of the way. Her characters are equally believable and even though they all fit the tropes of the genre, Katherine Arden adds little twists that make this story incredibly original and readable. One of my favourite of her decisions was the complete lack of romantic interest the heroine shows. She just wants to decide her life for herself; a difficult thing to do in a time when the two options open for her are a) marriage or b) joining a convent.

    Overall, in case anyone missed it, I absolutely adored this book and its main character. I love the little nods to fairy tales I grew up with and I love the focus on making your own choices rather than just doing what is expected and/ or easy. The only slight negative I can find is that I found the ending to be rushed; but then again I just didn't want the book to end, ever.

    ___

    I received this book curtesy of NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

  • Emily May
    Dec 29, 2016

    Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a tale no less compelling for its slow, gradual development. Like all the best fairy tales, the author draws on the setting - a village in the northern woods of Rus' - to create an atmosphere that

    is the key word here:

    captures that feeling of uncertainty and superstition

    Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a tale no less compelling for its slow, gradual development. Like all the best fairy tales, the author draws on the setting - a village in the northern woods of Rus' - to create an atmosphere that

    is the key word here:

    captures that feeling of uncertainty and superstition. The characters are somewhere between the old and the new; believing in modern religion but still deeply tied to the stories of old - the creatures that hide in the dark, the demons lurking in corners, the spirits living in the woods.

    The protagonist is Vasya, a feisty, stubborn girl who always manages to find her way into adventure and, often, trouble. Quick-witted and rebellious, it's hard not to fall in love with her instantly. There's a sense throughout that she is at one with nature, belonging to the very setting of the novel - the wild, rugged landscape of her youth. She is most at home when running and playing in the woods.

    When her father remarries and brings Vasya's intense and devout new stepmother back to their village, the safety of everyone is threatened. Her stepmother refuses to appease the creatures of the forest and darkness creeps ever closer. The arrival of a young priest who challenges the people's belief in the old spirits endangers them further. It is Vasya - and her own strange gifts - who is the family's only chance against the evil spirits at work.

    ; one so deeply atmospheric that you can almost feel the cold air on your skin as you're reading.

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  • Elyse
    Nov 17, 2016

    Wow.....*Stunning*!!!!

    Katherine Arden's lush and lovely debut novel deftly transports us to Russia in the 14th century with incredible lyricism- scents-sounds-vivid beauty-subtle intrigue- and gorgeous Russian folklore.

    At the start Marina is frail and weak. She has 4 children and is pregnant with her 5th. Pyotr, her husband, and Dunya, her devoted nurse, both beg Marina not to keep the baby. They are fearful she will die. Marina had given Pyotr 3 sons and 1 daughter....but she was still hoping-

    Wow.....*Stunning*!!!!

    Katherine Arden's lush and lovely debut novel deftly transports us to Russia in the 14th century with incredible lyricism- scents-sounds-vivid beauty-subtle intrigue- and gorgeous Russian folklore.

    At the start Marina is frail and weak. She has 4 children and is pregnant with her 5th. Pyotr, her husband, and Dunya, her devoted nurse, both beg Marina not to keep the baby. They are fearful she will die. Marina had given Pyotr 3 sons and 1 daughter....but she was still hoping- waiting - determined to give birth to a daughter that carried her mother's magical spirits - a strength that her daughter Olga wasn't born with. Marina said it would be worth leaving her children motherless, to give birth to a daughter with her mothers spirits. If she died she made Pyotr and Dunya to promise to take care of her.

    Marina did die. Her daughter, Vasya was born with her grandmothers magical powers, and strengths.

    We soon notice Vasya has an insurmountable, unyielding amount of breezy - spunky - independent- energy. She marches the beat of a different drummer ....and she is simply irresistible.

    The first time she got lost in the forest - ( she ran off to eat her honeycake), she was scared, cold, and shivering. She was lost in the dusk on the cusp of winter and it was going to snow. She meets a man with one gray eye and the other was missing.

    She talks to the man. It's been a long time since he has seen a Russian girl. Vasya didn't understand what he meant- but she said:

    "Do you know where we are?"

    "I am lost. My father is Pyotr Vladimirovich. If you can take me home, he will see you fed, and give you a place beside the oven. It is going to snow".

    He said he would help her -- but he wanted her to "come here" first and help him.

    Vasya had no particular reason to be untrusting.

    Well.....the man did frighten her. AND THIS IS WHEN I TRUELY FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS HEROINE ...because we watch her courage go in and out. One minute she speaks out strong defending herself - but then the next minute she loses faith and feels vulnerable. It's as if Vasya is AS BIG AS SHE IS SMALL...

    and as SMALL AS SHE IS BIG. She is real - whole - so very human!

    Her brother, Sasha finds her. She sobs..... They return home. Dunya and and her father are angry. They are worried that they Vasya is a wild child who will run off when she feels like it --and become completely unmanageable. The girl needs a mother Pyotr thinks. I'm thinking... hm? That easy huh? To control a free spirt? I was wondering how many mother's he consulted for such wisdom of his. Haha!

    Pyotr may have been angry at Vasya - wanting to punish her. BUT I WAS ANGRY AT HIM!!!

    "Pyotr thrashed his daughter the next day, and she wept, so he was not cruel"

    Huh??? BEATING IS ALWAYS CRUEL......( no matter what century it is)

    "Vasya was forbidden to leave the village, but for once, that was no hardship. She had taken chill, and she had nightmares in which she revisited a one-eye man, a horse, and a stranger in a clearing in the woods".

    My emotions were soooo invested as this story keeps changing and spinning off in surprising directions.

    Vasya 'does' wanders back into the woods as a teenager. Around this same time evil is entering the village. Through Pyotr's marriage and a Priest....( both people to be suspicious of), demons are becoming fierce. -- but this is a fairytale ... and Vasya is the GOOD SPIRIT!!!!

    This book feels like an instant classic -- An enchanting mystical exotic world!!!!

    Thank You Random House Publishing Company, Random House, and Katherine Arden

  • Mischenko
    Feb 03, 2017

    This review can be viewed at

    Words cannot describe how much I cherish this book. The characters were described so well and the story was absolutely fantastic and so magical. ♡♡♡

    Certain parts of the story felt so nostalgic to me. It reminded me of my upbringing with my Russian grandmother and our old Orthodox Church. Matyushka, Batyushka and many of the other words in the story evoked a glimpse into my past. There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about this book. Happy with al

    This review can be viewed at

    Words cannot describe how much I cherish this book. The characters were described so well and the story was absolutely fantastic and so magical. ♡♡♡

    Certain parts of the story felt so nostalgic to me. It reminded me of my upbringing with my Russian grandmother and our old Orthodox Church. Matyushka, Batyushka and many of the other words in the story evoked a glimpse into my past. There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about this book. Happy with all of it, every word, even the ending.

    I would definitely recommend reading the glossary in the back of the book first to understand the meaning of some of the words. ♡♡♡

    I have high expectations and can’t wait for the second book “The Girl in the Tower.”

    5***** and I’m definitely purchasing this one!

  • Cheri
    Dec 06, 2016

    !! NOW AVAILABLE !!

    In northern Rus’ the family of Pyotr Vladimirovich are waiting out the last days and nights of winter, with rapidly dwindling food supplies gathered before the winter snows began. Marina, his wife, tells him that she is with child.

    Pyotr is not happy, fearful for her life. She is already physically weak. Marina had wanted another daughter, although they’d already have three sons and a daughter. She’s determined to carry this child to term, sure that this girl child will carry

    !! NOW AVAILABLE !!

    In northern Rus’ the family of Pyotr Vladimirovich are waiting out the last days and nights of winter, with rapidly dwindling food supplies gathered before the winter snows began. Marina, his wife, tells him that she is with child.

    Pyotr is not happy, fearful for her life. She is already physically weak. Marina had wanted another daughter, although they’d already have three sons and a daughter. She’s determined to carry this child to term, sure that this girl child will carry her mother’s gifts of taming animals, seeing the future and harnessing nature’s powers.

    This story centers on a young woman named Vasya who takes her first breaths of life even as her mother takes her last.

    Vasya was not an easy infant to care for, but Dunya, who was Marina’s nurse as an infant, now raises Vasya through her infancy, childhood. As a young woman, Vasya is free to do what she wishes most of her days. She develops a bond with the horses, speaking to them, whispering sweetness until they trust her enough to come to her willingly. As sweet as Vasya can be, she is a force of nature, filled with determination, strong-willed and independent, while also filled with a strong family bond. She loves her family, and will do what is necessary to protect them.

    An enchanting tale set in an extraordinarily lovely, atmospheric setting, a blend of fairy-tale, folklore, myths, and history with a strong young heroine leading the way. What’s not to love?

    Pub Date: 10 Jan 2017

    Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House – Ballantine, NetGalley and author Katherine Arden

  • Paromjit
    Dec 08, 2016

    This is an atmospheric and intoxicating read that draws on history and Russian fairytales. Set in medieval times, it charts the origins of Vasya's birth and her mother's determination to have a daughter endowed with her grandmother's powers despite it meaning her death in childbirth. The novel begins with Dunya telling the story of Frost, a harbinger for what comes later.

    Vasya is an enchanting rough and tumble girl, more at home in the wild outdoors and who chafes at the limitations pressed upo

    This is an atmospheric and intoxicating read that draws on history and Russian fairytales. Set in medieval times, it charts the origins of Vasya's birth and her mother's determination to have a daughter endowed with her grandmother's powers despite it meaning her death in childbirth. The novel begins with Dunya telling the story of Frost, a harbinger for what comes later.

    Vasya is an enchanting rough and tumble girl, more at home in the wild outdoors and who chafes at the limitations pressed upon her. She has the abilities of her grandmother and can see, hear and feel what others cannot. She communes with and feeds the protective guardian spirits of her home, stables, forests and water. She is fearless, brave, kind of spirit, generous and has a heart full of love. All is well until the arrival of Anna and the priest, Konstantin, begin to tear apart the community through fear, presaging the bitterest cold weather, crop failures, famine and death. A gifted jewel with magical properties proves to be a vital protective talisman for our Vasya.

    Anna, like Vasya, can see and hear what others cannot. However, this engenders terrifying fear in her and a zealous religious piety. Konstantin sees it as his duty to move the community to Christian beliefs and he achieves this by raising the fear factor. People begin to no longer value their spirits and guardians and abandon them. And as they wither and diminish, the dead stalk the living and the fortunes of the place hang in the balance. The only hope is Vasya, who by now is rumoured to be a witch who must be beaten into submission through marriage or convent. Neither is an acceptable option and Vasya enters the icy forest harbouring desperate fantastical dangers. Aided by the Winter King and Solovey, the nightingale, Vasya is to battle the bear for the soul of the world.

    This novel pierces humanity's Achilles heel to let us see how anger and fear allow people to let in the forces of destruction to wreak havoc. We only have to look at the world and see this is so. This is a richly imagined spellbinding novel that entrances the reader. It dwells on the themes of love, loss and what it is to be different. I understand there are to be two further books to come. I adored this story completely and urge others to read it. A brilliant book! Thanks to Random House Ebury for an ARC.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
    Jan 01, 2017

    4.5 stars! Now on sale, as of 1/10/17. Final review, first posted on

    :

    In the northern lands of medieval Rus’, a daughter is born to Pyotr Vladimirovich, a boyar, lord over many lands, and his wife Marina, who dies in childbirth. But Marina, daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow and a mysterious, swan-like beggar girl, has bequeathed her daughter Vasilisa a mystical heritage.

    Vasilisa the Brave (or Beautiful)

    Vasilisa, or Vasya, grows up to be a spirited and rather rebellious yo

    4.5 stars! Now on sale, as of 1/10/17. Final review, first posted on

    :

    In the northern lands of medieval Rus’, a daughter is born to Pyotr Vladimirovich, a boyar, lord over many lands, and his wife Marina, who dies in childbirth. But Marina, daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow and a mysterious, swan-like beggar girl, has bequeathed her daughter Vasilisa a mystical heritage.

    Vasilisa the Brave (or Beautiful)

    Vasilisa, or Vasya, grows up to be a spirited and rather rebellious young girl who, like an untamed colt, freely roams the fields and forest, and is able to see and communicate with the domovoi (a guardian of the home), rusalka (a dangerous water nymph), and other natural spirits of the home and land. Her beloved nurse Dunya tells Vasya and her siblings stories of Ivan and the Gray Wolf, the Firebird, and the frost-king, Morozko.

    But Vasya’s carefree life ends when her father finally decides to remarry. He brings home a new wife from Moscow, Anna, the daughter of the prince of Moscow, who is also able to see the spirits of the land, but considers them devils and demons, clinging to her cross and her belief in the church. Pyotr also brings home a mysterious gift for Vasya, a necklace with a brilliant silver-blue jewel, given to him by Morozko, whom he met in Moscow. But Pyotr and the old nurse Dunya hold the necklace back from Vasya, fearing to give it to her.

    Vasya’s life with Anna as her stepmother becomes strained: the strictly devout Anna is always at odds with the child of nature, who loves the magical creatures that terrify Anna. Life becomes even more difficult when a new priest arrives from Moscow, Father Konstantin, a handsome and charismatic man who preaches fiery sermons against the spirits of the land. As the people cease honoring (and leaving food for) these spirits, they weaken … but evil is waiting to step in as their protective influence wanes. Vasya finds herself at odds with her family and the villagers as she strives to protect them against unimaginable dangers that they thought existed only in fairy tales.

    weaves a richly colored tapestry, combining elements from various Russian fairy tales, a realistic description of life in medieval times, when Russia was not yet a unified country, and an independent an appealing heroine. The frost-king Morozko and his destructive brother, the Bear, play the primary fairy tale roles, but there are additional and sometimes delightfully unexpected Russian folklore elements like the stepmother sending her stepdaughter into the forest to find snowdrops in midwinter (from the story

    ),

    (also known as Father Frost) sending lost girls home with a dowry of gold and jewels, the

    , and

    . (I’m sure I missed a few more!)

    The atmosphere is well-developed, immersing you in life in medieval Rus’, a place where fairy tales may be true … which is not necessarily a comfortable thing. Enchantments can be good or evil, and the rusalka, vazila (a spirit that guards the stable and livestock) and other nature spirits are dangerous as well as helpful. Arden deftly illustrates their nature, so alien to humankind, as well as the need for mutual understanding and cooperative co-existence, which breaks down so badly in this tale.

    A major theme ― in fact, it propels the entire plot ― is the conflict between old beliefs, respecting and caring for the nature spirits, and the newer religion, Christianity, which is generally, and emphatically, in the wrong in this book. Father Konstantin and Anna, and the rest of the villagers that flock to follow the priest, are poor examples of religious believers. At times it seems that the novel sets up believers as being generally weak and dangerously misguided, if not evil, though those characters are offset, to some extent at least, by Vasya’s brother Sasha, who has a sincere heart and desire for a religious vocation, and the monk he follows,

    . In any case,

    certainly effectively illustrates the power of fear, as well as the danger of using that fear, rather than love, to prompt religious devotion.

    Another prominent theme is Vasya’s desire to live life freely, on her own terms, in a time when an arranged marriage or life in a convent were generally the only options for a properly raised female. Though it’s a modern theme, Arden integrates it well into the overall plot, and Vasya doesn’t come off as unduly anachronistic … though I did get a little tired of seeing her compared to an unbroken filly.

    The cruelty of winter and the terrors of the deep, untamed forest, where wolves ― and worse things ― rove, are tangible. At the same time,

    also incorporates references to actual historic figures, like Genghis Khan (at this time the Rus’ people were required to pay tributes to the conquering Horde), Sergei Radonezhsky, and princes of Moscow from the fourteenth century, although they are fictionalized.

    is a well-written and thoroughly thought-out fantasy, suspenseful and delightful. While it reads well as a stand-alone novel, Arden has indicated that two sequels are in process. I can’t wait to be transported to medieval Russia again!

    This Russia-based fantasy, set in old times when it was not yet a unified country, mingles Russian fairy tales of nature spirits, the Frost King and his destructive brother, the Bear, and a young woman's desire to live life on her own terms when an arranged marriage or life in a convent seem to be the only options for her. When a charismatic young priest comes to their town and rails against the people's beliefs in the nature spirits, Vasya is one of the very few to resist him. And the priest's actions are leading to the weakening of the protective spirits and the strengthening of the Bear.

    I wasn't entirely on board with the conflict between old beliefs and nature spirits and Christianity, which was generally in the wrong in this book. But other than that, it's very well-written and well thought out, with Russian fairy tales woven in in some unexpectedly delightful ways.

    Art credit: Photographer/artist is Viona Ielegems