The Bear and the Nightingale: favorite read of 2018? // Rave Book Review

“A demon sat sewing in the corner, and she was the only who saw.”

My summary:

This book is about a Russian girl named Vasya who lives in her village in the deep of the woods. However, when fear of the old pagan gods start taking hold of her people, Vasya begins noticing terrible things happening to her once-peaceful home. To save what she loves, she must muster her unique powers and do what is necessary for their sake.

Genres: Young adult, Fantasy, Mythology

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Introducing…my new obsession.

Only a few chapters into this book and I knew without a doubt: I’d follow Katherine Arden into death itself, just to read her books. There is an intricacy to her prose that caresses a magic into her stories so that despite my reading slump and cynicism going in, I found myself head over heels within a matter of pages.

Now is this to say that this book is perfect? Nah, the plot could’ve been sharper. However, the intimacy of the author’s prose and lore-rich world-building is so incredibly charming that plot was almost secondary to them. The ambiance is a colorful yet mystical blend of Hayao Miyazaki, and I could practically smell and taste these Russian seasons right off the pages.

And gosh darn golly, the family dynamics made me melt. Screw romance, give me good old-fashioned family love any day, and I’m half sold. Not to mention, the villains were so incredibly compelling that I was both rooting for them to be redeemed or also perhaps to die a most painful death. (Either one would’ve been fine with me.)

In that, this book has probably got to be my absolute favorite read this year (2018 or 2019, you choose), and I cannot express to you just how enamored I was by it.

However, I did mention that I had a few issues, most notably towards the climax. For the majority of this book, the author had taken pauses at her liberty and allowed the story to breathe, yet when it came to the climax where things inevitably became less airy-fairy and more action-packed, events started to accelerate and were only briefly touched in passing, which made the conclusion feel relatively rushed and not as emotionally lush.

Furthermore, I was left feeling a tad ambivalent about the foreshadowed romance. This might a personal nitpick, but considering that I was waiting for a twist or deception to be revealed about the love interest and his intentions, I was not entirely satisfied how he only turned out to be a sugar daddy. Not to mention, the straightforwardness of the climax again threw this lack of complexity or “messiness” into sharper relief for me.

So yeah, my only complaints with this book is that the finale didn’t take as much time to breathe, and the foreshadowed love interest was not as complex as I wished him to be. Otherwise, the prose was glorious, the lore magical, and the characters charming. If you have any doubt about this book’s potential–quell it.

She is ugly, thought Konstantin, and then wondered at himself. What was it to him if a girl was ugly?”


Recommended? Hell freaking yeah.

This trilogy gives me strong vibes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (my favorite Disney movie) as well as Hayao Miyazaki’s vivid world-building and vivacious heroines. So if you are a fan of either, go for it! The religious and feminist themes are a breath of fresh air to discover in YA, and I’d wholly recommend it to you as one of my new favorite reads.


Final thoughts: Rich, suspenseful, immersive

The highest praise I can give this book is that it is utterly immersive. Regardless of your preconceptions going in, the unique lore and culture will make you forget your biases and allow you to form your opinions organically, and that’s what this book did for me.

This book was so wild, so lush, yet it knew how to be quiet and intimate at the same time. Regardless of its shortcomings, I will now forevermore tout it as a favorite. 

Rating: Strong 4.5 stars (5 stars for the first 75% of this book, 4 stars for the last 25%)

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***Now if I didn’t make this clear already, this book made me forget I was reading a book, and all my insurmountable expectations were dispelled just like that. For the first time in ages, I was just sitting back and actually enjoying a YA book for what it offered, and the hype didn’t manage to influence my regards for it even in the slightest. Just, wow.

***Also, it might come across as a stretch to compare this to the worlds of Studio Ghibli, but that was literally all I could visualize while reading this book. Not to mention, Vasya sometimes reminds me of Ponyo or a water nymph of some kind, so there you go. 😛

***Lastly, if you’re wondering why I didn’t give this book 5 stars despite my gushing praise, it’s because of the finale. It’s perfectly serviceable, but an impactful finish is what’s required to make me go nuts for a book, so that’s why my rating teetered closer to 4 stars. (It really depends on the day though; Goodreads review here for my specific thoughts on this.)

32 Comments

  1. Welcome back!!! Long time no see!!! ❤

    I absolutely loved this book. The ending did feel rushed for me as well, but the rest of it was so wonderful that it made me excited to read the rest. Have you finished the entire trilogy yet?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. This was a favorite of mine back in 2017, and though I personally enjoyed the romance, I do see your point about the ending. I like how you compare this world to Miyazaki’s movies as well; I most certainly see the parallels there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. YES! Yes to the fact that you read it, yes to the fact that you loved it and yes to the fact that I agree with your review so very much!!

    I agree with the Hunchback vibe, in my review I actually said this about Konstantin: “This makes him narrow minded and closed off but we see the deep conflict within him as he pulls a Judge Frollo and isn’t sure whether he wants to kill Vasya or um… the other thing.”

    I also have to say, this is the first review on The Bear where someone has used the words ‘mild sugar daddy’ and for that you have to win an award!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww thank you so much! And OMG YES, Konstantin is exactly why I kept on getting Hunchback vibes. Dude has problems, and lolol for sure he wants to kill Vasya but also…ahem, that other thing. 😛

      And pfft thanks again…mild sugar daddy seems a tad cheap for Morozko, but I didn’t know how to describe him otherwise. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. YES. How many times can it be said because just YES give me a good family dynamic over romance *ANY DAY*. I recently read a book set in Russia and now I’m just like, Please give me all the Russian settings? Sounds like this one is another great option.

    Rushed endings are not optimal, although I’ll admit I read the endings so fast that half the time they feel rushed regardless, haha. Great review!! Great seeing you back!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing review! I’ve had the first book in the series since 2017 but I’m trying to collect all 3 before I start reading, and the Serbian edition of the 3rd doesn’t come out until October ughh. :S I’ve waited patiently for so long but I keep seeing awesome reviews, like yours, and I think I’ll succumb very soon haha. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha it’s the awesome reviews that finally pushed me over the edge, and they surprisingly didn’t disappoint! Are you planning to read this series in one go? (And you are reading them in another language?! Whoaaa…)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And yet another late comment… xD Yup, I’ll read the books in one go, hopefully soon! I bought the third book a few months ago on a book event…where I met and talked to Katherine Arden! And she signed my books! *.* ❤

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha thank you so much! I actually inhale-read all 3 of them within a week! I loved the characters so much that I just needed to find out what happened to them right away. ❤ I highly recommend books 2 and 3 for you! They're sooo very good. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! And I agree, the atmosphere the author created through her prose and world-building is definitely what pulls you in. 😉 Soooo jealous of her talent lol.

      Like

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