I have a soft spot for fairy tales. I think in the mystical, the fantastical, the other-worldly, stories can inhabit a special, revealing place, and I love getting swept up by a narrative that takes me to a different space.
The Bear and the Nightingale (Del Rey, out now in hardback; paperback releasing in October 2017), is a Russian fairytale, all about the sinister and unknown things which may lie around us, in the deep and unknown woods. The story, in its snowy, rural setting, is written in a lyrical and beautiful style, with vivid descriptions and exquisite pacing.
This is one of those books which hooked me from the blurb:
“In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods… “
I mean. For someone who loves a bit of Gaiman, Pullman and Morgenstern…that’s my kind of intro!
The story follows Vasya, our headstrong, wild girl, the youngest child in the Vladmirovich family. Growing up without her mother, who died shortly after Vasya’s birth, she is the baby of the family, who is doted upon by her older siblings. Vasya has inherited her mother’s gift of the second sight and spends her time in congress with the spirits and guardians of the land around her. She befriends many of the spirits and tries to aid them as the rest of her village start to move away from them and from the ancient magic. Concerned that Vasya will never marry without changing her ways and becoming a dignified and proper young lady, her father remarries. From here, things begin to unravel, and the forces of the old magic and the modernising ways are thrown into conflict.
This is an evocative, unputdownable book, full of elegant prose and beautiful moments. I found myself gripped as the story unfolded and missed my tube stop on more than one occasion as I was so gripped by the world if snow, folklore, old gods and hearth-spirits. Recommended.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book to review from the publisher. All opinions, thoughts and ponderings are my own.