New Release Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale (2017)

I opened The Bear and the Nightingale with great anticipation and not a little trepidation; since the trend for fairy-tale fiction exploded some years ago, there have been some brilliant entries in the genre and some derivative duds. Katherine Arden’s debut novel looked promising, with its half-magical, half-historical Russian setting and an enticing cover, but what looks good doesn’t always turn out to be so in the reading.

Fortunately, from the first pages I was entranced, as Arden quickly led me into a truly wonder-full world, in which the time-honored motif of the mistreated stepdaughter gains new strength and richness through her multi-layered telling. There’s so much to discover and enjoy that I’d like to encourage you to just pick it up and explore it for yourself … but to name a few favorite aspects, I especially appreciated how elements of folklore and myth were treated in a way that brought them to life for modern readers, while feeling both genuinely atmospheric and psychologically true. At the same time, the historical setting — a medieval land of wooden huts, wandering monks and tribal machinations — is economically but convincingly developed through telling details of life and language.

Toward the end, I found that Arden’s storytelling weakened a bit. The villains became more one-sided and less interesting, and the battles with monsters started to feel too much like a video-game slugfest for my personal taste. I’m hoping that in the sequels (and yes! there will be sequels!) she’ll carry the skill she shows so amply in the buildup of this story through to the very last pages. I will definitely be watching for her next effort with great interest, and confidence that this time my expectations will be rewarded.


28 thoughts on “New Release Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

  1. I have been seeing this book everywhere. Sorry to see the monsters were one sided and you didn’t love it as much. Good writing goes a long way, I might just check this out anyways. Thanks for your honest review.


  2. I have a copy of this book which I’m hoping to start soon, so I’m pleased to hear you enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve read a bad review of it yet – I’m looking forward to it!


  3. I am a bit wary of fairy tale retellings and you are right, there has been an explosion of them in the past years! What intrigues me most about The Bear and the Nightingale is the Russian influence.


  4. That cover! I haven’t yet read any bad retellings from the present crop but have read some average and sub-par ones. Glad to hear this one’s good; what you’ve described of the story intrigues me. (Added to the wish list!)


  5. It is so common, but such a pity for books of this nature to kind of crumble in the end. I am glad that the experience was an overall positive. I look forward to reading this soon. Great review, Lory.


  6. I absolutely loved this book! I didn’t really notice the villains slacking at the end, but I was so much in love with Vasya and the world created that it’s quite possible I just missed it!


  7. This is funny because I just read two back-to-back reviews of this (yours and Lisa Loves Literatures’) and they give almost opposite opinions. Lisa felt that the book started out slow and she wasn’t truly engaged until the second half. You loved the first half, but felt like the story got weaker—just goes to show how the reading experience varies from reader to reader. πŸ™‚ (But you both enjoyed the story overall!)


    1. That is so funny! But yes, I can certainly see how a different reader could have a different reaction (especially one who likes monster battles). I am glad she enjoyed it overall, so basically we are in agreement. πŸ˜€


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