The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Book Review

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publication date: 2017
Number of pages: 323
Length of audiobook: 11:48:25

A young woman's family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.

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, the father hides the gift away, and his daughter, 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.

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for fans of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus and Neil Gaiman.

The Bear and the Nightingale begins with us hearing an old tale about a frost demon. We then follow the main character, Vasilisa as she grows up and sees these magical creatures everywhere, creatures that no one else seems to be able to see. The story is told in third person and we also see some of the relevant adventures of her family.

This book is dark, especially in certain parts. It was actually completely unlike what I was expecting (I was expecting a more traditional fantasy. This book was exactly like a Russian fairy tale. It was slow-paced but everything had meaning and it all built-up to reach the climactic ending. It also allowed us to care about the different characters and despise some of the more villainous ones.

Throughout the book, there is the question of who are these two mysterious and magical men that we see throughout? Which characters are truly bad and which characters are really good?

I don't tend to enjoy slow-build books but with this, it really worked. I listened to the audiobook on 1.5x speed so that helped me to get through it more quickly, whilst still following the story.

The emotions:
This book made me feel all the feels. There were potential romances, there were sad times, there were scary times, there were things at stake, there were times when I just wanted to shout at the characters to do something differently. When this book finished, I was left speechless.

The characters:
I loved Vasilisa, she was such a strong and independent character, she adored her family, she was adventurous, she fought against fear to fight for what she cared for, she listened to the things that she was told and she was also cautious when needed. Vasilisa was definitely a three dimensional main character and I loved to see her grow and develop throughout the course of the book.

I also really liked Vasilisa's family. Her father and siblings were caring. They all kept in touch and they all tried to help each other. I loved that her family were present throughout the book, something that we don't see very often in fantasy books.

There were side characters that were also interesting, complex and well-developed, including one character that I hope to see more of in the next book (this is a trilogy!). 

Final thoughts:
I loved this book. The characters were great, the story was emotional and immensely interesting. Everything had a meaning, everything led us towards the finale and there is still more to be seen in this world? Amazing. When I started this book, I wasn't sure about it because it was kind of slow-paced but all of the scenes were well-developed and they fit together cohesively. Arden did a great job of weaving a beautiful tale and making me become attached to the characters and the world. I am glad that I listened to this on audiobook and that I kept listening!

Star rating: 5/5 stars


  1. I know we're not supposed to judge books by their covers but this design? *Chefs kiss* PERFECTION. I'm always in awe when I see these books around because certain editions just SLAY. I mean, they are just so gorgeous.

    Great review--you've officially sold me on caving and buying this one. Cheers!

    1. Thank you! I hope you enjoy this read too and I'm glad that you found my review helpful!