Series: The Winternight Trilogy #1
Published by Random House on January 10, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Retelling, Folktales
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 either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, 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.
I am always going to pick up a book that involves folklore, so when I heard about The Bear and the Nightingale, I knew it would make for a great audio book. Based on several different Russian folktales, the story follows Vasya, or Vasilisa, who is a favorite folk heroine of mine. What I thought the book did very well was to highlight how little power Vasya had over her own life. Where she lived, what she learned and who she married were all decided for her. The local priest, in particular, seemed to relish giving orders to the women in the village while struggling with his own inner turmoil. His religious beliefs were a weapon gleefully wielded not only by him but by her stepmother, as well. What sets Vasya apart is her unwillingness to go along with what society expects and while people blame her supernatural heritage, I thought she made a wonderful and stubborn heroine, magic or not. I loved all of the research that obviously went into writing this book because it seemed to draw from so many traditions and stories. All of the magical creatures that lived in their home, their land, and in the forest were Vasya’s friends, or at least her responsibility. Because she is somewhat set apart from everyone else, may do become her only friends, but they don’t always make life easy for her. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle, the story started to lose direction. It seemed to lack focus and meander a bit, which made it difficult to push through, at times. By the end, however, it was back on track and was ultimately an enjoyable book.
The narrator was very good! I am guessing that she is a native speaker because the Russian language parts and the accents were spot on. She also has an excellent voice for stories. I felt as if I was sitting by the fire, listening to someone tell me a tale before bed. It helped create that feeling that you were being taken on an adventure with the person telling the story and I am happy to see that Kathleen Gati is also narrating book two. While not without its flaws, I enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale and will definitely be adding book two to my listening pile.