“Nay, it is the coming storm. The first sign is fear. The second is always fire. Your people are afraid, and now the fires burn.” 
Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale

If you’ve ever spent longer than five minutes in my presence then you will know that Uprooted by Naomi Novik is my favourite book of all time. So when I heard about this new book that is supposed to have a similar feel and premise to Uprooted I drummed my fingers together like an evil villain and adopted the following facial expression -

Picking up The Bear and the Nightingale, I was 90% sure I was going to love it. I sat there with my nose buried and waited for the story to suck me in… and I waited… and waited… and before I know it I’m 300 pages in like… oh…

The story revolves around a small village on the edge of the Northern Woods of Rus’ (that’s medieval Russia to you and me). Within this village dwells Vasya, who from birth has been able to see and interact with all the household and woodland cheryti: spirits who protect their hearths and their lands. Although she is loved and accepted by her family, the villagers fear her and call her ‘witch’. This fear is only heightened when Father Konstantin Nikonovich arrives from Moscow preaching fire and brimstone, scaring everyone into forgetting the old ways for fear of eternal damnation. As the panic increases, the offerings disappear the spirits are weakened, with only young Vasya to remember them... the evil in the wood begins to awake.

Now hear me out - in no way shape or form do I think this is a bad book. I think the writing is absolutely stunning. It’s so lyrical with such a beautiful flow to it and the imagery that Arden paints is magnificent. The characters, particularly Vasya and Father Konstantin, are so complex and elegantly structured. I really loved Vasya’s bravery and her connection to nature and the spirits. She didn’t feel in any way forced, as ‘strong female leads’ sometimes are. She just is what she is, and I appreciate that greatly as a reader.

When I read a book I want to forget where I am and who I am. I want to be swept away by the characters and truly feel a part of the story. Unfortunately with this book, I spent the whole time being very aware of the fact that I am sitting, reading a book. Sorry ‘bout it.

Perhaps the whole book is just too subtle for me. Arden lays the foundation for her story slowly and gradually. It isn’t really until the last third of the book that anything overly exciting happens. Even so, I found the book’s climax to be… disappointing. To be honest… I didn’t really have a clue what was going on. I found that Arden didn’t properly explain any of the really important elements and subplots of the world and the magic and it left me very confused. I also found that the action sequences were written with the same energy as the lulls, which might have been why they were lacking...

Also. I’m sorry. Character names. I spent 50% of this book with a constipated look on my face trying to sound out the names in my head. I understand that Arden is using traditional Russian names. But in this book when a character is addressed, their full name is used EVERY.SINGLE.TIMEAnd not only do they have their full names. That would be too easy. Each character also has several variations of their conclusion…I spent the first quarter (at least) of this book not knowing WHO THE HELL ANYONE WAS.

So I found it very difficult to come up with a star rating for this book. It’s one I did not dislike. But I can’t quite figure out how much I did like it. I can see why other people would adore this book. So I’m going to go with 6/10 stars.

I can still appreciate the great elements this book does contain, but I personally just didn’t get into it and I probably won’t be continuing with the series.

Quote © Katherine Arden 2017


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