( Here are the US and the UK editions of The Bear and the Nightingale)
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and calls on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
First off let it be known that the tale of Vasilisa the beautiful is one of my all time favorite folklores in the whole spectrum of literature. It’s what got me into reading literature at such a young age and it was my bedtime story for as long as I can remember. So the story of Vasi has a very very very special place in my heart.
Now, when I started the story, I was a little surprised by the elegant way it was written. It really takes you back into the old Russia and has that majestic vibe to it. The beginning was a bit slow for me, and that’s due to the fact that it was the setup to the rest of the story and again this is set in a different time so the expectancy is different as is the mood. I found that after a couple of chapters, once the foundation was laid out that the story flowed very nicely and I loved all the Russian elements that were implicated and weaved into the story
What’s very different about this story is that after reading some of it I was looking it up on Goodreads and I found something very interesting about The Bear and the Nightingale. I had originally thought it was a simple retelling of Vasilisa the beautiful, but what I found out and don’t quote me but from my understanding is that this was also a retelling of Morozko and his journey from being the Russian Jack Frost and transforming into Ded Moroz who is the Russian Father Christmas. I found this such an interesting twist because it makes so much more sense and really adds depth to the story.
The world building is quite phenomenal, the word choice, the overall feeling of the story s like ancient Slavic mixed with Russian and it’s the perfect read for this weather. I recommend this read to anyone who is interested in reading more of Russian inspired folklore since I personally feel like there is a lack of Russian anything in the YA and NA region. So I definitely recommend it and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Also, go in with a mentality to expect eh unexpected because you will be dazzled, enchanted and shocked at the twist and turns of this wonderful story. I cannot wait to see how the next book plays out because I don’t know what to expect! I think The Bear and the Nightingale deserves a 4/ 5 stars just because the beginning was a bit slow for me which is completely fine because it takes time to write a masterpiece.
So in reference to my conclusion that Bear is a retelling of the Russian Jack Frost, this is the answer that Katherine had posted on Goodreads in response to if Moroz was an authentic deity:
Katherine: So, Morozko is the name of the Russian Jack Frost, a winter demon who is sometimes benevolent and sometimes cruel. He features in multiple fairy tales. What I found interesting about this character though is he has his mythical roots in Slavic paganism, as a dark god of winter and death called Chernobog. He evolved over the years from a pretty powerful deity to sort of a wicked fairy-tale creature, and finally (after some European influence) to Ded Moroz, the Russian Father Christmas. I found this journey (from wicked pagan god to giver of treats to children) absolutely fascinating, and I wondered what would go through such a character’s mind as he was making that transition over the centuries.