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The Bear and the Nightingale
Cover of The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale
Winternight Trilogy, Book 1
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Katherine Arden's bestselling debut novel spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice. "A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and...
Katherine Arden's bestselling debut novel spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice. "A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and...
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  • Katherine Arden's bestselling debut novel spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

    "A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up."—Naomi Novik, bestselling author of Uprooted
    Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse's fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

    Then Vasya's widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya's stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

    But Vasya's stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village's defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse's most frightening tales.
    Praise for The Bear and the Nightingale
    "Arden's debut novel has the cadence of a beautiful fairy tale but is darker and more lyrical."The Washington Post
    "Vasya [is] a clever, stalwart girl determined to forge her own path in a time when women had few choices."—The Christian Science Monitor
    "Stunning . . . will enchant readers from the first page. . . . with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
    "Utterly bewitching . . . a lush narrative . . . an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family."Booklist (starred review)
    "An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale . . . The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic."—Robin Hobb

    "Haunting and lyrical, The Bear and the Nightingale tugs at the heart and quickens the pulse. I can't wait for her next book."—Terry Brooks

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    It was late winter in northern Rus', the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow. The brilliant February landscape had given way to the dreary gray of March, and the household of Pyotr Vladimirovich were all sniffling from the damp and thin from six weeks' fasting on black bread and fermented cabbage. But no one was thinking of chilblains or runny noses, or even, wistfully, of porridge and roast meats, for Dunya was to tell a story.

    That evening, the old lady sat in the best place for talking: in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven. This oven was a massive affair built of fired clay, taller than a man and large enough that all four of Pyotr Vladimirovich's children could have fit easily inside. The flat top served as a sleeping platform; its innards cooked their food, heated their kitchen, and made steam-baths for the sick.

    "What tale will you have tonight?" Dunya inquired, enjoying the fire at her back. Pyotr's children sat before her, perched on stools. They all loved stories, even the second son, Sasha, who was a self-consciously devout child, and would have insisted—had anyone asked him—that he preferred to pass the evening in prayer. But the church was cold, the sleet outside unrelenting. Sasha had thrust his head out-of-doors, gotten a faceful of wet, and retired, vanquished, to a stool a little apart from the others, where he sat affecting an expression of pious indifference.

    The others set up a clamor on hearing Dunya's question: "Finist the Falcon!"

    "Ivan and the Gray Wolf!" "Firebird! Firebird!"

    Little Alyosha stood on his stool and waved his arms, the better to be heard over his bigger siblings, and Pyotr's boarhound raised its big, scarred head at the commotion.

    But before Dunya could answer, the outer door clattered open and there came a roar from the storm without. A woman appeared in the doorway, shaking the wet from her long hair. Her face glowed with the chill, but she was thinner than even her children; the fire cast shadows in the hollows of cheek and throat and temple. Her deep-set eyes threw back the firelight. She stooped and seized Alyosha in her arms.

    The child squealed in delight. "Mother!" he cried. "Matyushka!" Marina Ivanovna sank onto her stool, drawing it nearer the blaze.

    Alyosha, still clasped in her arms, wound both fists around her braid. She trembled, though it was not obvious under her heavy clothes. "Pray the wretched ewe delivers tonight," she said. "Otherwise I fear we shall never see your father again. Are you telling stories, Dunya?"

    "If we might have quiet," said the old lady tartly. She had been Marina's nurse, too, long ago.

    "I'll have a story," said Marina at once. Her tone was light, but her eyes were dark. Dunya gave her a sharp glance. The wind sobbed outside. "Tell the story of Frost, Dunyashka. Tell us of the frost-demon, the winter-king Karachun. He is abroad tonight, and angry at the thaw."

    Dunya hesitated. The elder children looked at each other. In Russian, Frost was called Morozko, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachun, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in the night. It was an ill-omened word, and unlucky to speak it while he still held the land in his grip. Marina was holding her son very tightly. Alyosha squirmed and tugged his mother's braid.

    "Very well," said Dunya after a moment's hesitation. "I shall tell the story of Morozko, of his kindness and his cruelty." She put a slight emphasis on this name: the safe name that could not bring them ill luck. Marina smiled sardonically and untangled her son's hands. None...

About the Author-

  • Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 4, 2016
    Arden’s debut is an earthy, beautifully written love letter to Russian folklore, with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate in 14th-century Russia. Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna’s mother, Marina, died while giving birth to her. Her father, Pyotr Vladimirovich, loves her; he also resents her for his beloved wife’s death. But Marina made Pyotr promise to take good care of Vasya, saying that she was special, and indeed she is. While her father and brothers seek marriage arrangements among royalty in Moscow, Vasya, now a teenager, refuses to be married off; instead she wanders the verdant woods of her father’s rural estate, communing with spirits of home, wood, and water. When a young, arrogant priest is sent to her village, the people turn away from their old ways, and the spirits that keep them safe begin to fade. It’s up to Vasya to protect them, but her father marries Anna, the daughter of Grand Prince Ivan II, who believes the wood spirits are demons and wants to kill Vasya or confine her to a convent as punishment for consorting with them. As a fierce winter storm rages, Vasya must save her family while embracing the magic that lives inside her. The stunning prose (“The blood flung itself out to Vasya’s skin until she could feel every stirring in the air”) forms a fully immersive, unusual, and exciting fairy tale that will enchant readers from the first page. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow and Nesbit.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from October 15, 2016
    Arden's supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist.In a village in the northern woods where her father is the overlord, Vasya, a girl who has inherited her royal grandmother's understanding of magic and the spirits that inhabit the everyday world, is born to a mother who dies in childhood. Raised by a kind father, an anxious and spiteful stepmother, a wise nurse, and four older siblings, the feisty and near-feral girl--"too tall, skinny as a weasel, feet and face like a frog"--learns to talk with horses and befriends the household and forest spirits that live in and around the village. These, say the handsome young priest who has been exiled to serve their household, are demons and deserve to be exorcised. The battle between Vasya and driven Konstantin, who spends his free time painting icons, fuels the plot, as does the presence of two of the old gods, who represent death and fear. Arden has obviously immersed herself in Russian history and culture, but as a consummate storyteller, she never lets the details of place and time get in the way of a compelling and neatly structured narrative. Her main story, which has the unmistakable shape of an original fairy tale, is grounded in the realities of daily life in the time period, where the top of a large stove serves as a bed for the elderly and the ill and the dining hall of the Grand Prince of Moscow reeks of "mead and dogs, dust and humanity." Even minor characters are given their own sets of longings and fears and impact the trajectory of the story. Arden has shaped a world that neatly straddles the seen and the unseen, where readers will hear echoes of stories from childhood while recognizing the imagination that has transformed old material into something fresh.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2016
    A darkly magical fairy tale for adults, this debut takes us to the edge of Russia's immense wilderness, where Vasilisa loves hearing her nurse's old-time stories. Alas, her citified new stepmother bans anything she sees as superstition, with catastrophic results Vasilisa must counter with hidden gifts.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from April 1, 2017
    Reading Arden's debut novel is like listening to an entrancing tale spun out over nights in the best oral tradition. This mesmerizing fantasy takes place in medieval Russia, at a time when women had but two choices in life: serve their appointed husband by bearing his children and taking care of his household, or serve God in a convent. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either. She has been a wild thing since birth, escaping her household duties to run free in the forest and conversing with spirits only she can see. But Vasilisa's behavior is taken in stride until a charismatic priest comes to her father's village, convincing his patronage that their custom of leaving offerings to curry favor from the spirits is sacrilege. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. When first crops and then villagers begin to die, Vasilisa's unladylike behavior and refusal to follow the priest's teachings mark her as a witch in the villagers' eyes. But she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist whom teen girls will want to emulate. She knows her own mind and heart and refuses to succumb to societal expectations, and her beauty stems from self-confidence rather than physical appearance. Arden's lyrical writing will draw teens in and refuse to let them go. VERDICT A spellbinding story that will linger with most readers far beyond the final page.-Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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