A Fairy Tale of Medieval Russia
The Bear and the Nightingale is the first in an ongoing trilogy from debut author, Katherine Arden. It is a real world fantasy drawing it’s inspiration from Russian folklore. Lyrical and atmospheric it captures a society caught between the old beliefs and superstitions and the stern disapproval of the Church.
Our protagonist, Vasya comes from a family of Boyars; the Russian Aristocracy with close connections to the Grand Prince. Despite this there is little luxury in the family’s daily life living as they are in Northern Russia on the edge of the wilderness. This is the perfect setting for Vasya, a free spirited girl gifted with the ability to communicate with the adoring household spirits of her village and nearby forest.
Her idyllic childhood running wild through the countryside is disturbed when her father, in true fairy tale fashion, takes a new wife. Anna the stepmother is also able to see the spirits but, as a fervent Christian, believes she is being tormented by devils and is slowly going mad.
The arrival of Father Konstantin, a prideful young priest fresh from Moscow brings discord to the sleepy village. Father Konstantin sets his sights on destroying the remnants of pagan culture within his new flock so that the villagers’ worship is directed solely towards God and himself by extension. He finds himself unwittingly drawn to Vasya who he is both disgusted and fascinated by.
Meanwhile, an old deity, Medved the Bear has escaped his prison and has plans to increase his waning strength. The only hope to put him back lays with his brother, Morozko the god of death and winter. Many years ago Morozko laid his claim on Vasya, now he calls on her to aid him.
This darkly lush tale lovingly recreates a medieval Russian world that is fully immersive and highly enjoyable.