Books: The Bear and the Nightingale by Catherine Arden

Hello Shiquers and welcome back to Nerdy Shique Universe! Time for another book review! This one was a hard one but let’s see what I think!

Title: The e Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Catherine Arden

Disclaimer: This Review is based on opinion and observation of the lead writer and please respect her thoughts on this book!

Synopsis: We meet a wild child by the name of Vasilisa who lives on the edge of wilderness in a small village in Russia where winter roars through most of the year. Like many children, she enjoys listening to the old stories that her nurse tells including the one about Frost and his brother which most people fear them the most when they hear the story.

When her mother dies, her father goes to Moscow to find a new wife which she forbids her and family to honor the old spirits that are worshipped by the village which causes Vasilisa to be fearful of the problems that start arising due to how these spirits aren’t being worshipped anymore. Signs start showing up such as crops failing and demons coming closer from the forest which causes her new stepmother to become even more stricter in grooming her in becoming either a bride or a nun. As time goes, she has to fight the ones she love in order to combat the evil that comes close with the gifts that were concealed from her in order to save the village despite having dirty looks casted upon her.

Thoughts: This was a really good book but at the same time it was something that slightly made me take breaks due to how much it scared me. It is supposed to be a sci-fi and fantasy tale but I saw more of a fantasy story with a lot of religious undertones weaved in. The writer, Arden, did look into folktales to weave into this story which made it even more interesting and I did get brought back to my Comparative Myth class in the heroes unit of the class where this is a twist on the hero myth.

How so you might ask? Well, we see most heroes being brave in a lot of tales which they are either chosen from saving their friends from evil at a young age or have a special gift early on but Vasilisa was mostly put into her predicament based on fear from her stepmother and had her gift from her father that he got from Moscow and given to her nurse in order to give to her but kept until she was a teenager when things got worse. Not only that, a priest did add more to her fear and her stepmother’s and half ister;s fears on top of that. Which they did show the priest follow the siren songs of a water spirit that Vasilisa made friends with in the beginning of the book to rescue him before he died and was told that he will end all the spirits of the forest unless he dies or she has to get rid of him herself which a lot of heroes do have a major choice to do and you see it with her. As in, she did make a choice of sacrificing her life and food by giving it to the Donavoy in the oven and did hurt herself when the Frost’s brother shown up by going into the forest herself to save her family or she will be sent off to a convent to be a nun because her stepmother forced her to go. What makes her different from most heroes too is that people mistrusted her too which she saw that she wasn’t acting like how a normal woman at the time should be as in taking care of the family in the kitchen, being married off to a man, when she rather rides horses and go into the forest to play around. When she was arranged to be married off, she scared off her fiancé in order to rescue her nephew by riding the fiance’s horse! This got the looks that they thought she was a witch and should be exiled instead of being able to live in the village. I can see how much fear can cause your own hero to be mistrusted and turn away from the tales that you know and love on top of it in order to be saved.

The reason why I had to take breaks was the parts with the stepmother and how she was acting towards Vasilisa and her interactions with the priest. I know this is early in Russia’s history and how religion was taught differently back then but I felt sorry for Vasilisa the most since she was treated harshly by the stepmother and I know why. In the beginning of the story, she was able to see the demons and she wanted to be a nun herself but couldn’t due to being married off to Vasilisa’s dad. She refused to bathe because that was when the demon she saw the most came around. Her fear was something she couldn’t control but forced upon on the family and she didn’t know how to deal with it. Heck, I remembered when the priest gave Vasilisa a crucifix in order to protect her but the stepmother took it away from her knowing that it didn’t belong to Vasilisa but meant for herself alone. I can see why the priest gave it to her because he remembered that Vasilisa was the one to save him from a spirit that tried to kill him off. I can see how the priest wants to help the stepmother but he did show how he was becoming more involved with the Frost legend due to see the “Bear” which he thought it was something else that would help him even in his services. A very good antagonist in my opinion that adds onto how Vasilisa would have to save the village from the evil demons.

Rating: 5 Out of 5 Star Pawprints! I gave it a rating of 5 because this story was a very well written story despite how many breaks I had to take. It shows how fear can make you into a hero that can be despised by your own community. I wonder how the recorded version will sound whenever I get to it through my NLS wishlist since that would be interesting to hear. Vasilisa is a really good hero in how she was developed and shown how much sacrifice she had to go through in order to save her family and her village from eternal famine from evil.

That is it for this review! I hope with the next book I don’t have to take so many breaks in between because it is starting to become a modern sci-fi tale in it. Let’s see what I bring next!

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