I am a huge lover of cultural anthropology, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales, and this was by far the best book I have read in a long time! It’s categorized as YA Fantasy/Folklore/Fairy tale but it does not feel YA at all when you read it. A lot of Russian cultural research went into the story and even though there were many mythical beings and creatures it never felt hokey or childish.
The story follows Vasya, a young girl who grows up into a woman (at the time in 1300s Russia which means she’s a teen). The author never came right out and said the time of the story but with some historical references I was able to figure it out. It takes place between 1310 and 1350. Vasya is a wild child who loves nature and is not like the other girls. She speaks her mind, which made me love her, and she does not want to get married and be a wife. She has a special ability that she can see all the mythical creatures, beings, and demons of her homeland, a country and wintry part of Russia that made me long for a powdered snowstorm the entire time I was reading it. I would say it’s perfect for a Christmas read, but really I would love it anytime of year. Vasya’s mother was like her, a bit magical, but she died in childbirth. Her father finally remarries so that Vasya can have a stepmother, but her stepmother is cruel. I was so surprised at the stepmother because she had the same abilities, to see demons and creatures, but instead of embracing it like Vasya she was terrified of it and that is why she hates Vasya I believe. Vasya spends her days talkin to horses, because she can speak with animals, and hanging out with the nymph- like woodland creatures. Her nursemaid, Dunya, is her best companion. Secretly, she is trying to protect Vasya from the winter demon who seems to want her for himself. He said she is to have a gem when she is old enough but her family does not want her to have it because they fear it will be bad news for her. The frost/winter demon is the brother of a terrible war bringing winter demon who also wants Vasya. As you can probably guess, it ends in an epic battle between both sides. Another aspect of this book was how Christianity came into a land that still honored the old ways and old gods. This is always interesting to me, especially since I am looking at it from a Christian point of view. Vasya does not want the old ways to die and it was interesting the author personified this concept by having her mythological creatures waste away the less people sacrificed to them or gave to them or believed in them. I am a Christian and I love mythology and the old ways, not as a religion but as a study in historic cultures, so this book was everything I didn’t know I was looking for in a book!
This book was full of magic, action, heart, wintry wonderlands, history, mythology, and so much more. It is the first book in a trilogy. Immediately when I finished this one I ordered the next one so I could keep going. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something I’ve liked so much. It reminded me just how much I love mythology from other cultures and the fun things authors can do with them. My series Chronicles of a Supernatural Huntsman takes mythology from different cultures and places those creatures and beings in the main character’s path, but she is usually fighting them because they’re evil. In The Bear and the Nightingale a lot of the beings were good, household demons or elves or whatever you would like to call them. They were friends with Vasya and hardly did harm.
I highly recommend this read. I breezed right through it and never wanted to put it down. I’m so glad it’s a trilogy and I plan to read all of them. If you would like to read the Bear and the Nightingale click the button below.