Bookish Discussions · Reviews

Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale:


DISCLAIMER: non-spoiler review.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars | Read: 5 February – 7 February, 2018. 

Today, I want to talk about one of my most highly anticipated reads. I’ve been meaning to read Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale for so long now, but I had to keep pushing it to the side until all my university reading was done. As soon as I read my last book, I jumped straight into this, but now I question why? I don’t think there’s a worse feeling than expecting so much from a book for it to completely let you down. Unfortunately, The Bear and the Nightingale was that book for me.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this story, it’s set in a village on the edge of northern Russia. There is a medieval feel to the story, despite Arden never explicitly telling us when it’s set. One night, a family is gathered around the oven, their only source of heat, whilst the servant tells fairy tales, specifically the story of the Winter King. To Vasya, however, these are more than just  stories. Only she can see the demonic spirits that guard her house from the growing force in the surrounding forest; it’s only she who can potentially save them from danger.

Doesn’t this sound like the perfect book? Really, this is everything I love to read, watch and write about. It’s set in a medieval-feeling Russia, it’s heavily influenced by folklore, has an interesting array of characters, and is set in a snowy village. However, instead of being overjoyed by this, I was completely disappointed. In all honesty, I don’t know what made me dislike this book so much. I cannot pinpoint one single thing that I didn’t like about it. It just didn’t work for me. I have narrowed it down to two potential reasons: A) it’s Young Adult which is a genre I’m unfortunately growing out of, or B) I had too high of expectations that nothing Arden could have done would have lived up to them. Either way, it was something; something that I disliked, or something that lacked, that made my expectations plummet.

Despite this, I actually enjoyed a lot about it. Firstly, the characters. I must admit, to begin with, I felt like none of the characters had any substance to them. They kind of floated through the story; never really feeling present. At one point, around half way in, I stopped and asked myself: if I stopped reading right now, would I even care to know what happened to the characters? At that moment, I honestly thought no, not really. However, when I had roughly 120 pages left, the characters started to feel more like themselves. They became characters I was interested in. Vasya was, without a doubt, my favourite character. She was my sort of YA character: headstrong, independent, unique, and caring. There were many layers to her character; and it was fun to unpick them as I read along. If I were to carry on with this trilogy – which, in all honesty, I probably won’t do – Vasya would be the reason why.

In addition to this, I really liked the Winter King (otherwise known as Morozko). In the beginning, I was highly suspicious of him. He was a total enigma. I really didn’t think he would turn out to be someone completely different to who I first expected. He had a different side to him; he was sweet, loving and truly cared for Vasya. Also, I don’t know if I’m imagining things, but is there potential for him and Vasya? …because I am totally on board with that. In a sense, I’m sad I won’t be carrying on with the series. I have a feeling Morozko has a bigger part to play in the story, and I would love to see how that plays out. However, it simply isn’t enough to tempt me into buying and reading the second instalment. (So, if you have read it, then maybe you can tell me what happens.)

Other than this, I loved the plot. Arden’s knowledge of Russian folklore was astonishingly detailed and it really shone through the writing. I saw no flaws in the plotline; and it really shocked me how well the story panned out. It was convincing, but maybe ended a little too abruptly. Moreover, the writing style was beautifully done; very lyrical and it flowed wonderfully. It put you in a sort of trance, one that you were completely mesmerised by. I hope I can write half as brilliantly as this one day. Honestly, I really don’t have anything bad to say about The Bear and the Nightingale, all except that it didn’t work for me. Obviously, I’m really frustrated at this. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for so long, but it let me down. I do think, however, it’s one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” sort of thing.

Thanks for reading, Lauren X

3 thoughts on “Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale:

  1. Ahh it’s a shame this book was disappointing for you! 😦 I did mean to pick it up awhile ago, but I just don’t think I’ll ever get to it now. Hope your next book is better!


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