Book #57: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden draws heavily from Russian folklore. Vasya is the independent, tomboyish daughter of a Russian noble. After her mother died giving birth to her, she is raised by her nurse, Dunya, who tells her all the old Russian fairy tales, particularly about the Frost Demon. Life is good for Vasya’s family and her people, until her father remarries and the new stepmother makes them abandon their old ways. Vasya’s home and people lose the protection of their household spirits, and a new evil threatens them all. The novel is well-written, evoking the cold and isolation of Russian winters, and truly frightening suspense from the villain. I also enjoyed entering into a new world of tales I am unfamiliar with. But, overall, the book was unsatisfying. Turns out, it’s the first book in a trilogy and is unable to stand on its own. Throughout the book are many allusions to a greater story happening behind the events of the novel, but it is never explained – even a cursory explanation – and that just left me frustrated. I’m somewhat interested in the next two books, but if the author can’t flesh out the bigger story even a little in the first book, will she be able to at all? I don’t expect that reading the whole trilogy would satisfy my curiosity, nor do I want to buy them, so this is probably the end of the story for me. 

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