Rummanah Aasi

Description: 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. As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call 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.

Review: There are some authors that write stories and there are other authors who are storytellers. Katherine Arden belongs to the latter category. While reading her mesmerizing debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, you actually feel like you are listening to an oral story while sitting next to a fire on a cold night. It is the perfect book to pick up and read this winter season.
  Combining history, mythology, and fairy tale, The Bear and the Nightingale takes place during medieval Russia where women had very few choices: become a wife who bears children and takes care of her household or become a nun dedicated to God. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either much to the ire of her family, especially her religiously devout stepmother. Rebellious since birth, Vasilisa has always followed her instincts. Always escaping her confining home and banal household chores, she is at peace in the forest and conversing with spirits only she knows from folktales that she grew up with and know to be real. For the most part, Vasilisa's behavior is overlooked since she is the youngest child, but there is something alluring about her that her father refuses to acknowledge. The plot picks up when a charismatic priest comes to her father's village and clashes with the old customs, in particular of leaving offerings to spirits. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. Soon crops and 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. Soon she finds that she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil.
 I found the clash between the organized religion and those of the spirits to be fascinating. I also loved the characters. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist. She knows what she wants and refuses to bow down in front of societal expectations. Her beauty and charisma, for once, is internal and come from her strong self-confidence rather than physical appearance. There is a bit of a light romance simmering in the book, but for the most part is it about Vasilisa's coming of age. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I was left wanting to know more about Vasilisa's older siblings who are mentioned in the first part of the book and have left a strong impression of her. I hope to learn more about them and continue with Vasilisa's adventures in the next book. I am so happy that this is only the beginning of a fabulous series.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images, nudity, and allusion to sex. Recommended for older teens and adults.

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