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Publisher's Summary

A magical debut novel for listeners of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The 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 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.

©2017 Katherine Arden (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Stunning...will enchant readers from the first page...with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Utterly bewitching...a lush narrative...an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family." ( Booklist)
"Arden's supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist." ( Kirkus Reviews)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Story

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I was swept away

This was such a wonderful story that I honestly got lost in it and it was unlike any book I have read. It was also familiar, in a way, and reminded me of stories my own grandmother used to tell me when I was little. This is a story with a strong protagonist, rich characters and an enchanting story that proves you are never too old for fairy tales. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially someone who loves folktales and especially on a cold night with warm tea handy!

35 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Culture-Rich, Unusual, Captivating


This novel of Russian Folklore is beautifully written with smooth narration. Arden paints a great mental landscape with rich descriptions Russia and it's culture. If this is a fairy tale, it is an adult fairy tale.

The atmosphere is similar to Marillier's "Blackthorn and Grim," Joyce's "Some Kind of Fairy Tale," and "The Snow Child."

I love books that grab my attention from page one and maintain it until I hear "Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program." The Bear and the Nightingale did that for me.

53 of 57 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I would give this six stars if I could

She is a fantastic story teller I loved every bit of this book

I cannot put it down.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Similar in feel to "Uprooted", I loved it

Reading other reviews, I was pleased to see several mentions of Naomi Novik's "Uprooted" in comparison to this fantasy. The language is lovely, not stilted, and the descriptions sit in a satisfactory way in the mouth. The narrator of the audiobook version did a wonderful Russian accent, not too heavy in the vowels, not hard to follow. I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Tatiana
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • 05-12-17

Blah.

I found this book quite boring and ordinary. I loved Novik's Uprooted, so I jumped at this one after hearing the comparisons. My family was part of the old Russian nobility, so I grew up hearing anecdotes about the way of life back then and tend to like stories with those parallels. Also, I love Russian fairy tales. I expected to absolutely adore this book.

However, I just didn't find it remotely interesting. I tried for a long time to stick with it due to the reviews, but it was a huge chore. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing it had in common with Uprooted was the similar geography and the narrator's accent (that part was nice, I admit). This book was obviously meant to read like a fairy tale, but if it did it was an extremely tedious one. The characters were boring and unsympathetic. In certain parts of the book, time passed so quickly you couldn't really get to know anyone or become attached, yet you were still supposed to feel something when their minor interests were somehow threatened.

If I had to pin it down, I would say a common theme was that the author *told* you why you should love her characters or care what they did, i.e., "she was a beautiful, bright child" (when of course everything that came out of her mouth was ridiculous), or "he wanted to join the brotherhood more than anything else in the world" (and then forgetting about it for five chapters before bringing it up again), instead of *showing* you. Sorry, but it's not that easy. And it shouldn't be.

There was more wrong with it than that, but in general the problem was that it was simply boring. I can't for the life of me understand the reviews. Suffice it to say, I just didn't fall for it or see it the same way others seemed to. Too bad. I would have liked a good fairy tale.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Disappointed🤔

Hats off to the narrator for attempting all those names and accents. It was not easy listening. It was hard to keep up with the characters because of similarity of names and nicknames. I had to playback frequently to get them straight. I invested seemingly a lot of time getting the backstory and the payoff was just not there. The mythology was definitely intriguing and new to me. The most frequent lines were someone telling the heroine "no" and her doing it anyway. We got this for a road trip and my daughter couldn't get past the accents and narration so quit listening. The narrator did her best with the material. Disappointing.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I have missed reading enough book reviews.

How ELSE can I explain having missed this author & this title until now? I am certain that reviewers have been as favorable (or moreso!) about her perfect accent - American OR Russian - as well as her ability to add more than a soupçon of interest to narration .

Absolutely fresh and refreshing, learning about Russian fables....made all the more delightful by the narrator, Kathleen Gati. She injects a certain Eastern focus by explaining, for example, the lore surrounding "Frost", which is most interestingly and definitely different the "Jack Frost" tales we have here in the USA.

Last, but far and away from "least" for the author, Katherine Arden, a huge "BRAVA" for her ability to bring Russian tales to light and sprinkling them them throughout to honestly picture the difference between East and West -- even to the "tales" we honor by passing them on the next generation. AND to presenting us with memorable insight to what makes our fairy tales so very entertaining, in this case, the "Eastern" focus and it's impact on both the story, the characters and the reader. Again, "BRAVA!" -- and "Thank You!"

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Standard Fantasy Fare

Standard fantasy trope of someone being born with special powers that no one else possesses. Thankfully, she wasn't destined to save the world (just her village).

I confess that I had difficulty keeping track of some of the characters because of their Russian names. I think this difficulty was particular to the audiobook format and would have been easier on the written page. Despite this, the narrator did a wonderful job with them and her performance added a lot of authenticity to the tale.

The story took awhile to get started. This is a two-book series, and much like a Marvel movie, it had a couple of tangents that had nothing to do with the main story, which I suspect will be taken up in the next book. For example, the book introduces a brother who wants to become a monk early in the book. That decision is made and is never again relevant to the story. I don't like stories told in this way (just wait until these danging plots become relevant with future book purchases).

I also didn't care for what has become a standard trope in modern story-telling, which is to make Christian priests the bad guys. The church is bad. The priest is the real evil-doer. Did I just blow your mind? I suspect not. I've seen it a thousand times before and it's tedious and at odds with reality.

The bad guy seems to gain strength because of the people's unbelief in the old ways, or fear, or something. It's not clear. And it's not clear how our heroine's actions at the end were sufficient to beat back the rising unbelief or fear, or whatever. The resolution wasn't related to the cause. So, it wasn't very satisfying.

In all, it had some interesting concepts. The heroine was sympathetic and interesting, but the story seemed a little jumbled and cluttered with some storytelling elements that detracted from the tale. I'd pass.

AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Jeremy
  • HOUSTON, TX, United States
  • 04-07-17

An Impoverished Fantasy

What makes good scifi / fantasy is its resonance. You can have dragons, aliens, mermaids, wizards, magic, but all of those fantastical elements should call to our world in some way. Monsters are real. This is why Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Song of Ice & Fire all work is because we recognize the truth underneath the magical. The Bear and the Nightingale lacks resonance because there doesn't seem to be anything real within the story. The monster is ill defined, the hero lacks cohesion, all characters seem to lack motivation.

What is so frustrating is that there is a really great book in here somewhere. I want to read about Russian folklore. I want to read about what life was like for a village in Northern Russia during winter.

I really wanted to like this book, I'm only about one hour from finishing, and I'm not sure I'll actually take the time.

42 of 51 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A thrilling historical fantasy

Any additional comments?

The Bear and the Nightingale swept me off my feet. Everything about it drew me in and kept me from putting the book down - I finished it in just a week, reading several hours a night. Katherine Arden is a remarkably gifted world-builder and her prose style is gorgeous; the book comes to life before your eyes. I felt like I was in medieval Russia with the vivid, yet not overwhelming, description. That's a balance that seems to elude most modern-day authors, but when on the rare occasion one finds it as Arden did, everyone wins.

I know almost nothing of Russian history or folklore beyond the context of this book, so my commentary on the cultural and historical aspects of the story is useless. Regardless, I found the mythological aspects thrilling. Without any pre-existing understanding, it took me a while to figure out what some of the creatures were and their significance. I wasn't sure if they were malevolent or misunderstood. It's difficult to explain exactly what they are - personifications and guardian spirits, or perhaps both. I was reminded of Miyazaki's Spirited Away in this sense, which I thought was pretty interesting given the very different and separate contexts. Strangely enough, I think this comparison actually helped me get the concept of the Russian spirits better than I might have otherwise.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book - Vasya, especially, but also Dunya and even Ana (only as a character, not a person). To expand on that - Ana had a lot of dynamicism and I went through a whole cycle of emotions towards her throughout the story (although none of those emotions was fondness).

The relationship between Dunya and Marina and then Dunya and Vasya was... just beautiful. Vasya herself was so easy to love - it sounds like a simple thing, but writing a character the reader is meant to love can go so terribly wrong, and there is no worse fate for a character than to become a Mary Sue. Vasya managed to be noble, courageous, persevering, and full of strength and fortitude without ever dipping a toe into those deadly waters. I loved her character and getting the reader to love Vasya was such a critical accomplishment. No matter how beautiful the prose and elaborate the world-building, The Bear and the Nightingale is Vasya's story - for it to work, the reader has to love Vasya; there is no other option. Arden accomplished this brilliantly.

I found the religious conflict in the story to be interesting, although there were points that I wasn't comfortable with. I really enjoyed the way Arden portrayed the merging of traditional Russian spiritual beliefs with newly-imparted Christianity in Pyotr's lands. Being that Pyotr and his family did not live in the central kingdom of Moscow (where, it appears, due to the strong influence of the king, other religious customs were no longer tolerated), it made sense that, having less pressure on them to fully devote themselves to Christianity, the transition would have been less of a conversion than an incorporation of new and old belief systems. This has been the case in innumerable cultures worldwide as varying religions spread.

However, the character of Konstantin was an issue for me. In the beginning, Konstantin is an excellent and devoted priest and when he discovers that Pyotr and his people are still honoring old spiritual customs, it concerns him. This makes sense, as his role is to lead the people in the religion adopted by the king in Moscow, which is Catholicism. However, my real issue was that the only two really negatively-portrayed characters in the book are Konstantin and Ana, who are, simultaneously, the only two characters with a strong devotion to Christianity. Yes, all the characters are Christian - but many, such as Dunya, also remember the time before the adoption of Christianity, and therefore have a strong respect for the old beliefs themselves, and so do their children. Konstantin also later becomes unwittingly corrupted by the evil of the Bear and completely loses sight of his old self and begins to struggle immensely with temptations, and his motivations with regard to "leading his flock" so to speak, lose their initial good intention. My issue wasn't so much the character of a fallen or corrupted priest but that there was a strong dichotomy between the two predominantly Christian characters and everyone else. It did give me a vibe of anti-Christian sentiment, which was unfortunate.

Aside from these criticisms, I thought this was a wonderful read. I didn't realize it is to be part of a series, so I am looking forward to reading the next installment!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful