Book Review

A Literary Primer on Russian Folklore

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Ebury Publishing, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

All the ancient classic fairy tales have always been scary and dark. —Helena Bonham Carter

The Bear and the Nightingale was delightful to read. I’ve always been a fan of fairy tales (and their retellings), so I was more than eager to delve into the story. From the get-go, I want to say that this book is not for everyone, especially for readers who dislike slow story lines. On the other hand, if you love character-driven books, then you would probably enjoy this novel like I did.

I primarily gave this book four stars because it became my personal primer on Russian culture. Before I read it, I practically knew next to nothing about the latter. I was exposed to variety of Russian names that were both fun and difficult to memorize. I was also introduced to the old government and religion of Russia, which confuses (if not intrigues) me until now. Finally, I was thrown into the fascinating world of Russian folklore and its treasury of dark creatures. In totality, The Bear and the Nightingale was very educational, but it was not in a boring, academic way. The author said she isn’t Russian, so I was very impressed that she still knew Russia like the back of her hand.

The plot of this book was quite reminiscent of The Queen of the Tearling. Vasya, a supposedly plain/ugly girl, was given a pendant that would supposedly help her overcome a “great evil.” I actually liked this similarity, because I was once again caught up in solving the mystery of a simple trinket’s power. In retrospect, the pacing was undeniably slow, and it was because of one, major reason: too many POVs.

I am normally fond of books with multiple perspectives. However, my brain can only handle so much. The Bear and the Nightingale had an abundance of characters, and almost all of them were given their own chapters to narrate. This resulted in a broader sense of objectivity because it felt like I wasn’t missing any of the characters’ thoughts and actions. Still, I was more interested in Vasya’s chapters, so I sometimes became frustrated when I did not know what was happening to her anymore. Given her sporadic appearances in the book, one would think she wasn’t the main protagonist. Nevertheless, I applaud the author for the outstanding development of her characters.

Ultimately, The Bear and the Nightingale had more virtues than flaws. I enjoyed it a lot because of its dark yet enlightening content. I’m not sure if this is just a stand-alone novel, but I am highly anticipating a sequel.

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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