In a small Russian village, the figures of fairy tales play a much more prominent role in life than many would expect. The actions one young girl takes dictates how the rest of her village fares in The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.
A young, willful girl, Vasya is the strange one in her family who prefers to explore the woods and sees the household creatures, chyeri, that help them, yet her mother died so she could be born and grow to have abilities like her grandmother. Once Vasya’s father Pyotr needs more help in raising his children, but particularly his youngest daughter Vasya, he leaves for Moscow to find a new wife and begin arranging for his eldest daughter’s marriage. While in Moscow, a striking stranger gives a delicate and beautiful necklace to Pytor for his youngest daughter. Newly married and back with his family, Pytor doesn’t give the oddly gifted necklace to Vasya until the village struggles to survive a harsh winter. Armed with the necklace and her ability to see creatures others cannot, and are starting to not believe in due to the introduction to God, Vasya fights to save her village.
The novel is well-written and incorporates quite a bit of both the real, with various societal changes taking place in Russia, and the fantastic, with the numerous chyeri rooted in tradition, that shape the lives of those in this small Russian village, making for a captivating and quick read. The characters and creatures were well-developed as they compose the majority of the narrative versus plot, making it easy to become invested in their lives and root for their survival against the dark forces acting against them; however, I did think that Vasya was often described as more of a tool or a thing rather than a person, which was frustrating, but I concede that it was speaking to how the rest of the village, particularly men, viewed her.
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.