Regular readers will be aware of my interest in folklore, fairy tales and fiction dealing with faith and/or religion. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden touches on all of these elements which piqued my interest when it was released. I had it on the To Be Read list for some time. I didn’t buy it, however, as I was unsure it would suit my tastes despite the subjects above. Last year I was able to listen to the audiobook via Overdrive. I recently listened to the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, and figured I should post a review.
I found it to be a fascinating and enchanting listen; a truly epic tale of life in the north where magic and religion still live side by side. I don’t know enough about the Russian fairy tales and legends to know how closely this tracks with them, but I found it engrossing and suspenseful; full of history, family life, religious conflict and fantastical folklore.
Vasilisa is a great character and her unique personality and gifts really drive the novel. Arden does a great job describing the unique setting and building her characters. She builds the tension and even as she paints this wonderful and complex picture of the world of Russian wilderness.
It has a fairly strong feminist streak, the main protagonist’s goal is both to protect her family and escape the role society expects of her. It also has an element that seems anti-religion. But no matter your opinion on these topics or others, it is wonderful written and highly entertaining.
Kathleen Gati does a great job with the narration. She really helped to bring the characters alive and is just right with the tone, pace, etc. It is an audiobook it is easy to lose yourself in. And those are the best kind.
I usually avoid historical fiction but this one is in a time period I am not very familiar with and the folklore/magical elements give it a different feel. Recommended for sure.