The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale

A Novel

Book - 2017
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern'sThe Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice. 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 night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or confinement in a convent. As danger circles nearer, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales. Advance praise for The Bear and the Nightingale "An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale. A Russian setting adds unfamiliar spice to the story of a young woman who does not rebel against the limits of her role in her culture so much as transcend them. The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic."--Robin Hobb, bestselling author of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy "A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up."--Naomi Novik, bestselling author of Uprooted"-- Provided by publisher.
"In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Del Rey, 2017
ISBN: 9781101885932
Branch Call Number: SciFic Arden
Characteristics: pages ; cm


From Library Staff

A beautiful, dark fairy tale set in Rus (present day Russia) in about the 14th century, Vasilisa can see the spirits of hearth and forest. As religious fervor overcomes the town, with the introduction of a new priest, Vasilisa fits in even less, as she worries that the spirits that the villagers... Read More »

PimaLib_ChristineR Nov 09, 2018

Have you ever read a book you don't know much about, and reaching the end, realize it is a trilogy, and you hope you haven't read it too soon so you're forced to wait for the next book, because you really, just. Can. Not. Possibly. Wait? That was this book and I'm so glad I can drive right into t... Read More »

Try "The Bear and the Nightingale" while you're waiting for Bacigalupi's "The Tangled Lands."

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 14, 2019

A one-eyed man, a bear, a storm. It's told like a myth, the way Neil Gaiman writes sometimes. It's been ages since I read a book with a talking horse, and even longer since it was a Good Book. Highly recommended!

Mar 08, 2019

Interesting and lots of potential but did not quite scratch my itch.

DBRL_ANNEG Jan 23, 2019

Magical tale set in a wintery, medieval Russia. This is a world where the creatures of fairy tales actually exist (and if you're lucky, help out with chores around the house--I really need a Domovoi in my life!) It is also very much grounded in the realities of the time--girls who faced life in a convent or an arranged marriage, the religious zealots fighting against the old-time beliefs, and the age-old struggles of royal families to take over or maintain power over the throne.

I was enthralled by this book; it was the perfect book for a long, cold weekend and I'm glad it's the first in a trilogy.

Jan 20, 2019

This book is one of those lovely fantasy meets history meets magic type of novels. It puts me in mind of Juliet Marillier stories- sweeping, with a courageous and compassionate heroine, complicated mythical beings, and families that issues.

The setting is definitely Russia (north of Moscow), roughly 14th century. It's a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful, although with less Baba Yaga and spirits of hearth and wood instead of a creepy wooden doll. Arden has done an admirable job of taking a bizarre fairytale and turning it into something lyrical and lovely. Vasya's strength lies in her self-assuredness, her wildness (her belief in the natural world and its magic), and her loyalty. She performs heroic deeds and perseveres in the face of adversity- but all of that is communicated as if the story were being told over a fire by a master storyteller.

From the first page, this novel drew me in and enchanted me. And can we talk about the velvety cover for a moment? Lovely.

I want to see more or Morozka (of course- I need some god/mortal romance, apparently), and more of what Vasya will do next. I fully intend to continue the series, once book 2 is published. The title is a bit awkward, given it touches on the primary antagonist and a side character that is introduce in the final handful of chapters- unless it's an allusion to something that I'm not understanding? Anyway, other titles that would've worked: "Vasilisa Smashes the 14th Century Patriarchy", "You Say Witch, I Say Savior", "Vasilisa and the Hot Winter God", etc.

I recommend this for fans of good fairytale retellings, lyrical (but not florid) prose, historic fantasy, and Russian folklore.

Jan 02, 2019

Loved it. Already looking for next in trilogy. Atmospheric fantasy based around Russian folklore.

IndyPL_SteveB Dec 27, 2018

Atmospheric and beautifully written fantasy, based on Russian folklore.

In an era where women are expected to have children or become nuns, Vasilisa grows to be wild and independent – and she sees the household spirits. When her widowed father is forced to marry the sister of the Grand Prince, they discover Anna, the new wife, can also see the spirits. But since she is deeply Christian and not acquainted with Russian peasant tradition, she thinks she is seeing demons. Also into this mix comes a young charismatic priest, Father Konstantin, who believes that God has called him to cast out the demons. Something is indeed speaking to him – but it is not God. Anna and Father Konstantin do not understand that a great conflict is about to begin, for there are greater beings in conflict in the Russian winter than mere household spirits.

I am glad I read this in the spring, for the sense of winter in the book is so deep that one might get even colder reading it in January. Vasilisa is a wonderfully strong female character, ready to go against the standards of womanhood for her culture. The other main characters, including several of the more powerful spirit beings, are also well portrayed. The story starts a bit slowly as the author builds the atmosphere, background, and characters; but once Anna and Konstantin are added to the mix, the pace builds rapidly. First of a series.

Dec 18, 2018

I don't read many fantasy/legend/allegories but this one captivated me. Having a Russian ancestry I enjoyed reading many of the "tales" my grandmother told me about life in and around Kiev. I was able to recognize many of the terms for the household spirits and even the description of the ovens and construction techniques in the forest villages. I loved this book and was very sad that I had to finish it - I wanted it to go on forever.

PimaLib_ChristineR Nov 09, 2018

Have you ever read a book you don't know much about, and reaching the end, realize it is a trilogy, and you hope you haven't read it too soon so you're forced to wait for the next book, because you really, just. Can. Not. Possibly. Wait? That was this book and I'm so glad I can drive right into the next in the series.

Set in Rus, in, I'm guessing, the 14th century, Arden uses historical detail to firmly set the story in reality, while adding the magical touches that make it into a modern fairytale. Vasilisa is our heroine, able to see the spirits of hearth and forest which all the village still believe in without seeing. Tributes are left, until a new priest, seeing their old-fashioned ways, convince the villagers that they cannot worship the Christian God and the pagan spirits as well.

The strength of this story is twofold, the setting in a small village in the forests of northern Russia is a character in itself. The village life revolves around the changing seasons. And the character of Vasilisa is mesmerizing. We see it not only in her own actions, but in how those around her react to her. Her belief in herself to protect those she loves cannot be undermined by anyone, natural or supernatural. Part of the magic of the story is that it is about Vasilisa. Not about her falling in love, or developing a better relationship with a family member, or becoming a stronger person. It's simply about her, as she is, and the fact that she is strong enough to carry this novel on her own is a credit to Arden.

As some have noted, the end of the book takes a sudden turn, but in the way of fairytales, I didn't find this unbelievable. Lyrical is a word that gets thrown around easily, but here is a novel to which it truly applies.

LPL_LeahN Nov 07, 2018

I wish I could give this book 10 stars! I just loved the symbolism and the depth. Not only is it beautifully written, the origination from Russian folklore gives it a fable-like appeal. But instead of preaching a moral, it enlightens you to the fact of life inevitably followed by death, and the old adage, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

Jul 20, 2018

It is beautifully written and has charm, but the pace seemed odd. Most sections were very slow and drawn out. Others were rushed as characters suddenly grew up or dramatic events were just briefly described. Character descriptions and development was excellent, and I enjoyed that. I liked the glossary at the back, great for those of us unfamiliar with the terminology or background. I was a little disappointed with the ending, and wished the spirits were more involved throughout. I guess I expected more fantasy, drama, magic, and adventure.

Overall a one-time read. No regrets, and I learnt a little about Russian folklore, but I wouldn't reach for it again. I would probably appreciate it more if I were more interested in Russian culture and stories. I do recommend reading this if you're looking for an easy, relaxing read.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability
ArapahoeKatieK May 23, 2018

ArapahoeKatieK thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


Add a Summary
ArapahoeKatieK May 23, 2018

A story about Russian folklore. A girl is born to a Russian landowner in the middle of winter and there is something special about her. A tomboy from an early age, she spends her first decade and a half figuring out who she really is and how to use her abilities, how to fight evil, and how to keep her family safe.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at PCPL

To Top