Tuesday, 6 December 2016

#reviewsdaytuesday The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I was lucky enough to be sent this book for review by the lovely people at Ebury (thank you) a couple of months ago. I actually finished it and filmed a short video about it  (I'm working on a video book review project which will be launching in the new year) a month or so ago, but I've finally gotten around to writing up my thoughts!

The book arrived in this beautiful wrapping paper!

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in middle-ages Russia, in a remote Northern Town. The story follows a young girl, Vasya, from birth to early womanhood (approximately 13-15) in time when the the community she knows and the home she grew up in is changing wildly.

Early in the story we see Vasya's mother die during childbirth, her older siblings move out and become married off, and her father take on a new (much younger) wife at the bequest of the Russian royal family. The new wife is deeply religious and is greatly troubled by the spirit world. Vasya is deeply connected to the spirit world and is born with an ability to see and communicate with the demons who care for and protect the house and community. An ardent priest also moves to the village at the same time and the villagers begin to listen to his teachings. The priest teaches the people to fear the demons, to fear the magical elements of the world that they don't fully understand, and in turn those elements begin to fear and resent the people.

This book is very much about the battle between old and new, as well as the battle between fear and trust. The fear in the book is caused by a lack of understanding (and an unwillingness to learn) - anyone who is not on the side of 'good' is immediately on the side of 'evil' and anyone who challenges this binary way of thinking is rejected from the community. The voices that speak the loudest in the book - which are not necessarily the voices who know the most - are treated as the voices of authority.

Although it is set many years ago, the themes of this book actually speaks to the things we're seeing in society right now and I couldn't help but notice the many mirrors it was holding up to the world today. It's really obvious that book has been heavily influenced by Russian fairy tales so I think it is fitting that it transforms into a fable-like text. It warns of the dangers of fear, it warns of the dangers of listening to the voice that speaks the loudest, it warns of the dangers of scaremongering.

I enjoyed reading this book - it didn't necessarily grip me but it was a pleasant reading experience - but the further away I have come from reading it the more I have enjoyed it. I'm glad I waited before writing a review, because I needed the distance to realise exactly what the book was doing. It is much more than a 'coming of age' story and I'd recommend giving it a read. Also, not least because this book is set in northern Russia, it is the perfect 'curl up by the fire' kind of read, too!

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is published on the 27th January 2017 by Ebury Press.

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