A Review of the first instalment of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy
The Bear and The Nightingale is the first book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy and is utterly enchanting from the start.
The blurb for the book only offers you a small glimpse into the world of this small village in Russia – a wild and wintry place that sits on the edge of a dark forest, and where stories of Russian folklore come to life via the protagonist, Vasya.
Immediately it felt like I was listening to a fairy tale from the Brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. But there is a difference; while the tale of the frost-daemon is told by the old serving maid, Dunya, it has the feel of an old fairy tale – after all, Arden drew on Russian folklore to form her story – and foreshadows the rest of the book. The Bear & The Nightingale feels like a stand-alone fantasy fiction fairy tale. There is no rehashing of other genres; no wands or wizards, spells or magic here to save the day and centres very much on the people of the village, the conflict between the spiritual and religious characters, and Vasya’s struggles.
Vasya, the youngest daughter to Pyotr and Marina, is confronted with many a challenge throughout – we are told she is not beautiful with cold green eyes, her step-mother is unkind to her, the people of the village think she is weird and the Priest Konstantin Nikonovich thinks she is a witch. But she is strong-willed and kind, she loves her family and the spirits of their house, yard, and the forest – I could only will her on to succeed from start to finish.
Although, as mentioned, there are no obvious fantasy fiction stereotypes here, there are moments throughout the story where you get a sense of other books: Anna Ivanovna reminds me of the evil step-mother in Cinderella, Vasya conjures the image of the ugly duckling, and there is a definite sense of David versus Goliath, at the end. But this story is written and narrated beautifully – a dark fairy tale that feels relevant today and will never grow old.
I did not read the book but chose to listen to the audiobook – for one, I prefer to listen to fantasy fiction rather than read it, and two, I wanted to listen to the pronunciation of the Russian character names and places (I know I would not pronounce them correctly reading it!). Audiobooks are not for everyone, and I don’t listen to every audiobook I download. The main reason for this is whether I can bear to listen to the narrator or not. Fortunately, The Bear and The Nightingale is narrated beautifully by Kathleen Gati. And I may not be Russian, but her accent sounds authentic and rich, brings the characters to life and her overall narration is compelling.
I would rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. If you are looking for a fantasy fiction book that is captivating, engrossing, has a strong female protagonist and will find you adding the next two books in the trilogy to your basket, then The Bear & The Nightingale is for you – I’ve already downloaded The Girl in The Tower.
Listen or read The Winternight Trilogy in order:
For more information on Katherine Arden, visit her official website or head on over to her Amazon author page. To discover more audiobooks narrated by Kathleen Gati check out her credentials on Penguin Random House Audiobook Publishing or head to Amazon.