Review: The Bear and the Nightingale. Winternight Trilogy 1 by Katherine Arden

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long the bearnights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale
  2. The Girl in the Tower
  3. The Winter of the Witch (August 2018)

I loved, loved, LOVED this so much! What an absolutely beautiful story, beautifully told!

It takes place in a small Russian village and focuses on little Vasilisa Petrovna and her family. That is her dad Pyotr, her sister Olga, her 3 brothers Kolya, Sasha and Alyosha as well as her nurse Dunya.

I won’t mention the other 300 different versions of their names 😀 The Russians know how to make it complicated. Everyone who read the Night Watch books knows, that a person never only has one name in Russia! Vasilisa is also Vasya or Vasotchka.

Vasya’s mother Marina was from Moscow, related to the prince and she had something of a second sight. She dies after Vasya is born. And Vasya is not a normal child. She feels a pull towards the dark, dangerous forest. She is a wild child who loves to run around all day. She is a little bit odd. And not pretty. She looks like a frog.

I loved Vasya so much. We get to know her as a little girl and watch her develop and grow into a brave young woman, who loves her family more than anything in the world. She’s dreamy, sure of herself and wants to do what is right. She doesn’t let anyone tell her how to live her life and takes on lots of responsibility. She has the sight, just like her late mother and is aware of little demons and creatures around her house & village that can be seen as the ‘old gods’, the Russian people believe in and pray to. They keep them save and protect them from the cold and wicked things that live in the forest. There is one little demon who lives with the horses and cares for their well-being, one living in the oven, one mending clothes and tons more different ones!

Every character in this story is distinct and has their own personality. Whether it’s Vasya’s dutiful sister Olga, whom we only get to know a little or her loyal brother Alyosha, who does everything to protect his sister. They were all believable and I cared for them. I even felt sorry for Anna Ivanovna, Vasya’s stepmother, who thinks she is insane, because she can see the little demons as well. Anna is a devout Christian and spends most of her life in church. She doesn’t understand that the demons are not evil devils come to haunt her. Anna is very nasty to Vasya and wants her gone.

The atmosphere created in the novel is amazing. It’s snowy & cold and you can almost feel it coming from the pages. The kitchen with it’s massive oven is the place where the family comes together and spends most of their days in winter. It’s such a cozy & safe place, I could imagine it so well!

The story mostly deals with Vasya’s life in the village, the trouble she gets into and her daily tasks. It’s never boring and often includes her siblings and the little demons. Once a popular priest arrives in their little village, things are getting out of control, as he starts frightening the population and tries to convert them to only believe in his God. Konstantin is trying to ‘save’ everyone while taking away their old beliefs and traditions which results in chaos as the demons are getting weaker & weaker and the evil in the forest stronger & stronger.

The only one who is not afraid, and still believes in the old gods, is Vasya.

I could even understand Konstantin a little. He is a very conflicted man, who likes to be seen as a savior and control what people believe. He thinks his belief is the only one and the right one and who doesn’t follow his lead will give his soul over to devils. His intentions are not bad, but the actions he takes in order to achieve what he wants, are often cruel and selfish.

There’s so much drama and the relationships between the characters are so strong! Whether it’s friendship, hatred, passion, it always is believable and exciting. I wasn’t able to put the book down, it was so good.

Vasya is one of the greatest heroines I read about during the last years and the fairy-tale like, magical setting really did it for me. In this regard it reminded me a bit of ‘Uprooted’ by Naomi Novik. One of my highlights from 2 years ago.

I wouldn’t even describe this book as YA, as it doesn’t have any of the annoying YA characteristics. There isn’t really a love story at all, just some tension between Vasya and the frost demon, which was VERY well done, if you ask me. No cheesiness, no attitude and no goddam love triangle.

It is a serious, beautifully written book, that hits you right in the feels!

Also, if you are a horse-friend, this book is definitely for you! There’s some lovely horses and Vasya can even talk to them!

5/5 Stars. And while I am wrapping this up, I’m already 20% into the second part.


  1. You’re already 20% in?? That reminds me that I really need to get started on the second book. That’s good you like it. Everyone does. I feel like such an oddball for feeling meh about it. Konstantin might be the most interesting character to me in this book because of how conflicted he is.

    Liked by 1 person

    Okay, I’ll calm down… mostly 😉 I will agree with you about how complicated the names get, but the good thing is once you crack it in one Russian book, it’s really easy to follow across the board (I honestly don’t notice the name thing anymore and I’ve not read that many Russian books). I really loved how odd Vasya was!! And yes the characters were so distinctive!! So agree with how well this was done! Fantastic review!

    Liked by 1 person

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