Pre-Release Thoughts: The Bear and the Nightingale


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is not released until January 2017, but I already know that it will be amongst my top ten list of next year. I adore immersive, dark, and atmospheric folklore retelling. This book dishes all of these elements up and more, here’s a sneak peek as to why you should pre-order this beautiful book.

Summary: 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.

Preorder Via: Book Depository ||  Amazon  ||  Booktopia  ||  Bookworld

1. Cover Love

I’ve just realised in all of my Pre-Release Thoughts post, I inevitably begin with a gush about covers. I blame it on my obsession with bookstagram. The UK cover is especially gorgeous with its intricate, colourful illustrations – each carefully linked to the plot. I also love the US cover for capturing the wintry mood of the novel.


2. A Rarely Seen Side To Russia

While there have been several notable Russian influenced fantasy in the YA genre, The Bear and the Nightingale sets itself apart with its unique setting in the Russian Middle Ages. In times before the tsars and Romanov splendour, there was a Russia sequestered in the magic of nature – a place rarely visible in both fiction and non-fictional documentation.

The book used a lot of Slavic mythology, with beings such as the rusalka and domovoi playing pivotal roles in the book. It also addresses the Christinisation via the journey Vasya undergo throughout the book. There’s a compelling story in the delicate balance between the practice old faiths and new religion.

Note: I was a bit nervous when I began this book, as the author’s note made a reference to the fact she ‘sought to render Russian words in such a way that retain a bit of their exotic flavor’.  However, in so far as I can tell, the historical and folklore aspects of the Russian culture have been treated with respect. There are no harmful cultural appropriations or othering of Russian mythology or characters. Also note that I am not a learned student in either the Russian language or history, so I defer to other bloggers in this regard.

3. An Evocative Fairy Tale All Its Own

While The Bear and the Nightingale draws upon both pre-existing fairy tale narratives (e.g. Vasilisa the Beautiful) and tropes (the wicked stepmother, the promise, the indomitable maiden) – it also stands on its own as distinctive and remarkable story. I adore fairy tale retelling, especially ones that both reminds me of old storybook while surprising me in its own way.

4. Prose I Could Read All Day Long

I absolutely loved the rich, exuberant, and often-time witty writing in this novel – it worked in perfect contrast with the crisp winter chill of the book’s setting. The writing is reminiscent of Catherynne Valente’s work in Deathless, or Naomi Novik’s tantalizing Uprooted. Here are some of my favourite extracts from the book:

Dread settled over the village: a clinging, muttering dread, tenacious as cobwebs.

Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, the bird-prince and the wicked sorcerer – they only come for the wild maidens.

5. Captivating Characters and Relationships

The book is populated with a wide array of characters, all of different backgrounds and motivations. While many of these characters performed villainous acts throughout the novel, I loved that they all had clear ambition and traits that made these understandable.

Vasya was a lady after my own heart. While we often see head-strong heroine who are ‘not like other girls’ in fiction, I thought Vasya felt very authentic and relatable. Her relationship with her siblings, her father, and Dunya was definitely a highlight for me. This is also that rare book where romance is minimal, yet I was hopelessly pulled in by all the dynamic and complex interactions between the characters.

In short, I am absolutely in love with this book and would not hesitate to recommend it – especially if you’re after a riveting read to get you through a long winter night. Let me know if you’ve read it or planning to check it out! Check back closer to the release date for my full review.

37 thoughts on “Pre-Release Thoughts: The Bear and the Nightingale

  1. OMG, it’s great to hear such good thoughts on this one Aentee! I absolutely ADORED Uprooted (which is why I think I was invited for the Netgalley copy of this one hah) so The Bear and the Nightingale seems like totally my thing. The culture and writing sound absolutely magnificent, as well as the fact that it’s a fairy tale on its own. Bumped up on my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ooh it sounds a bit like Deathless WHICH I LOVED. And I won’t deny that I added this purely for the cover at first but Russssssia. I love Russia. *puts it on priority TBR list* 😍😍 And your graphic is stunning as always!!


  3. I was thrilled to see you rated this so high! The book is top of my list to get when it comes out, it sounded so good! I’m happy to hear it lived up to my very high expectations.


  4. SOLD! This sounds amazing and I absolutely loooove that UK cover! It’s such an Aentee cover too, imo. You need to get yourself that edition!
    Anyways, I got a widget for this one and I wasn’t sure if I wanted it or not, but I loove what you had to say about the atmosphere and the character relationships, so I’m going to get it!
    Fab review, Aentee!


  5. I actually have this on my Kindle to read and review and I keep putting off because of the January release date. It sounds fantastic though and you have definitely gotten me all excited for reading. I read the authors note at the beginning in regards to the translation and spelling of the Russian words and what I got from it is that the author was being a bit loose with their translation in that not everything is translated and spelt in the same way as expected but instead spelt in a way that ensures English readers are likely to pronounce it correctly but it will still held it’s original flavour. I liked the fact it was specifically mentioned that some of the history has been bent to suit the book but never more than necessary and there is a warning about it which I love in a book. I like to know what to expect.

    Anyway, the book itself sounds pretty damn fab. I’m thinking it’ll be the perfect winter read and I am already a little bit of the way in but my reading slump has hit and I’m struggling to get through. You’ve definitely helped reinvigorate the book for me and hopefully it will drive away the slump (hopefully).


  6. I’m really looking forward to this one and all the points you made appealed to me. I lean more toward the US cover though. From how the book is described, it seems to fit it best.


  7. this sounds really good ❤ i'm really curious about the russia before the tsar era, it's something i've never read about before. the uk cover is really gorgeous, it really captures the essence of the fairytale. can't wait to read this book!


  8. Well, you absolutely have me interested in this one now! I agree, the covers are gorgeous, especially the UK version. It’s one of those books I’d buy based on the cover alone (yeah, I do that…).

    I’m also intrigued by the family dynamics you mention – I always enjoy books about families. And it’s rare to see Slavic mythology/folklore in fantasy (I can think of Leigh Bardugo and not many more), so that’s cool.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention! 🙂


  9. This sounds so utterly amazing and we’re definitely going to check it out because we have an addiction of sorts to books based in Russia or off of Russian folklore. We liked the way you broke down your thoughts and will definitely have to check out more of your posts that are like this 🙂


  10. You’ve definitely got me intrigued with a bold claim like that, Aentee! Those brief excerpts from the book are gorgeous too…I can tell I’m going to love the writing in this one. All that plus a wintry, Russian tale? HELL YES! 😀


  11. I think I prefer the US cover, I’ve only read the blurb, so that probably would change after I actually read the book. I haven’t heard about this book before, and it sounds very interesting. But I’m so weary of books influenced by Russia. And your quote from the author’s note is ominous. I only have Catherynne Valente’s Deathless on my tbr-list, because it was approved by several Russian reviewers. I don’t think I’ll read Grisha trilogy, despite love it received from readers. I just can’t look past inaccuracies in portraying my country, regardless how small they are.

    Despite this reservations I want to give this book a try, you’ve listed so many points that I love in my books: beautiful writing (your quotes are gorgeous), story that is inspired by a fairytale, but is unique. Wonderful review as always!


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