First Impression Friday: “The Bear & the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

At long last, we come to this book. This book has been sitting on my bookshelf since…Christmas 2017? I think that’s when I asked for it. I received the first two books in the series and then realized the third book hadn’t even been published yet, and so I didn’t touch them. And then the third book was published, but only in hardback. By the time the third book was in paperback, I’d bought it and tucked it away on my bookshelf, too, probably never to see the light of day.

And now the pandemic has hit and I’m trying to read through my long backlog of books on my TBR list.

From Bookshop:

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed–to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales. The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy Book  1) eBook: Arden, Katherine: Kindle Store

I listen to a podcast called Myths and Legends and I have been introduced to Vasilisa before. I’d compare her to Russia’s Cinderella: her mother has died, her father has remarried a terrible stepmother, and she is forced to do all the work or face extreme punishment. Usually Vasilisa coincides with the story of the Baba Yaga (the Russian witch whose house has chicken legs and who rides around on a mortar and pestle). I knew when I read the name Vasilisa that our brilliant heroine was in for quite a rough ride.

As of the writing of this blog post, I’m on Chapter 8, which starts on page 58. Vasilisa is six years old, her mother is dead, and her father has gone to Moscow to find a wife for him and possibly his two sons. Turns out, Vasilisa’s mother was the crown prince’s sister, and the prince has other plans in mind for his brother-in-law. Namely, marrying off his mad daughter to him, even though she’s barely older than Petyr’s oldest son.

My prediction for this, just based off the summary on the back of the book, is that Vasilisa is going to come into her own as a witch (thus scrapping the usual Vasilisa trope in Russian fairy tales) and either help her mad stepmother or defeat her. Possibly both. Vasilisa has already encountered Frost in the forest as a young girl, and he saved her from another Russian spirit (god? I’m not sure what to call them), but she did not recognize him. The foreshadowing so far has been excellent, and I am greatly looking forward to finishing this book.

Have you read The Bear & the Nightingale? Are you surprised I’ve had this book for so long and haven’t read it yet? (Don’t be – I’ve got books I bought pre-2016 when I worked at the bookstore that I still haven’t opened yet.) Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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