The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden
My encounter with the Fantasy genre, after having read some parts of Harry Potter, got refreshed with 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern; and it made me fall in love with it. Sailing through other genres in time, fantasy took a back seat and I rekindled its charm when I started reading ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’.
To talk about the story would be to put myself in a fix and commit a crime of not being able to elaborate it perfectly, but I’d still try. The story is set in Russia, with winters so cold that even the horses trembled when the wind blew; people prayed for the winter to be small and tolerable listening to the stories Dunya told them sitting by the hearth, where the family huddled on cold nights. And the folks didn’t mind hearing the stories again and again- the story of the winter king, the story of the Frost. This is where Vasilisa Petrovna is born, youngest in the family of a wealthy boyar in North of Russia (Rus as they call it in the book) who is heir to old magic and only her mother who died giving birth to her knew about this lineage which passed on from her grandmother to Vasya alone.
Vasya, free spirited, often referred to as a wild sprite and a wild maiden, is a girl who could see and made friends with the spirits of the hearth, stable and lake; she spoke to the horses and understood them like no other. As she grew, so did the secrets unfold, one by one; the events which take place make Vasya realise about the power embedded in her and what she is capable of and how she must act to save her family from something terrible that is coming for her and her dear ones from the woods, more dreadful than the winter king himself. The portrayal of Vasilisa Petrovna is just fantastic- wild, feisty, rule-breaker, truthful and noble. Her satire spares no one. She fears no one. Her heart overwhelms with love for her dear one’s and she’s ready to face all odds for them, such is her courage and resolution.
'Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.'
And 'He' did come for the wild one.
For me, what worked out in the book was the perfect collaboration between the plot, narration, characters and the page turner events giving me Goosebumps and a shiver down my spine when I read the book late at nights. At no point does the plot feel slump or the book feels slackening from what it has to offer. The weaving of the story is dexterous as it can be, which I feel is the most important aspect in this kind of genre; keeping you hooked and gaping till the end simultaneously challenging the imagination at every step.
The writing is creative, and goes hand in hand with your mind's eye. It clubs everything together- be it the colloquial Rus lingos, the vivid explanation of a cold winter night, the spine chilling waking sequence of the upyr or the comforting description of the woods Vasya experiences. It makes the reading a smooth ride.
To say it is a must read would be an understatement I feel. It made me fall in love with fantasy all over again and I am thinking I might pick up more of these this year and satiate my imagination. Meanwhile, all I am thinking right now is what its sequel would be like, which is coming soon!