The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is not a new story necessarily.
Girl is the outcast of a family. Mother dies, father marries new and awful stepmother. Girl is strong-willed and "impossible." Stepmother resents any attention she gets over her own daughter. Vampires, sirens, demons, a hypocritical and awful priest who uses religion to do terrible things. Ignorant peasant community, the word witch is thrown around a lot. Becoming allies with something that is supposed to be evil. You know the story.
What makes this book remarkable is the delivery.
It is beautifully written and uniquely crafted. Using old words and ideas in a modern way but still telling a fairy tale from the past. And one rooted in Russia's rich and deep folklore.
Vasya, our heroine, is easy to root for as is her siblings. Including her half-sister despite the wedge the stepmother tries to drive between them. You can clearly picture the land, the winter and what it feels like to see the summer light. The author gives voices to some of the animals which adds an extra layer to the story. The horses in particular with their indifference and skeptical help remind me a lot of the cat in Coraline.
Moscow is now a larger than life city but to read what it used to appear as to people is compelling and fascinating. The author clearly spent time studying Russia's past.
I really enjoyed this story and had a very hard time setting it aside in the couple of days I read it. I am looking forward to Vasya's next adventure with the Frost Demon.
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