Monday, January 9, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

Del Rey, ISBN 9781101885932, January 2017

Vasya is the younger daughter, and youngest child, of Pyotr, a Russian boyar, and his wife Marina, daughter of the Grand Prince. Her mother dies at her birth, and Vasya is growing up wild and willful--and the beloved image of her mother. She'd rather roam the forest than learn to cook, and learn to understand the magical creatures of forest and hearth than learn needlework.

Pyotr worries about his youngest child, and even more so when a visit to Moscow to find a new wife to be her stepmother. His new wife is Marina's cousin, but very different, frightened of the things she sees in the corners of the house. In addition to a new wife, Pyotr has a frightening encounter with a frightening man of magic, who gives him a pendant for Vasya. He gives it to her nurse to give to her later, and she puts it aside to give it to Vasya when she is grown.

What neither of them knows is that the Frost King will be watching, and so will his brother, the Bear.

Their old priest dies, and a new priest comes from the capital, a young man burning with fire to stamp out the "sinful" old ways of tending to the creatures of the hearth and the woods that are older than Christianity. As he preaches against them, Vasya is learning to know and understand them better than anyone has, perhaps ever. The magic creatures start to wither and fade, and Vasya supports them as well as one girl can, keeping them alive and working for her family and the village.

But strange things are happening in the village, and Vasya is getting a reputation for being a witch. And Vasya's frightened stepmother is easy prey for preaching of the new priest.

The new priest isn't getting his guidance and inspiration where he thinks he's getting it.

This has the rich and layered feel of a an old folk tale told by a good storyteller. Vasya is smart and tough and likable and kind. It's a very rewarding read.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.