THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden
Verdict: Not for me.
Vasilisa grows up at the edge of the Russian wilderness, surrounded by the love of her siblings. She has a wild spirit that cannot be tamed for any suitor or convent, and finds she is able to see and protect the spirits that in turn protect her home. However, her stepmother fears them, and when the winter becomes harsh, and the Vasilisa is blamed. She must fight the cold, her stepmother, and be brave in the face of the demons to protect her home and the ones she loves.
I think the author has gone to great lengths to make this book feel authentic. The Russian names and words were a lot to take in, so I was glad to be reading the kindle version for quick definitions. After a while, it's fairly easy to adapt to, and the language equates to strong 'feel' of medieval winters in the heart of Russia.
Still, the prose felt hampered down with extraneous details, and the story in general was dreadfully slow. It took it's sweet time before anything truly magical happened, and even then, it felt more like a tale of madness than one of magic. The deep religious roots also anchors the story to a theme I'm not particularly interested in. I could see early on this wasn't the book for me.
I started to enjoy this book towards the end, but it was mostly a test of persistence. The timeline often flew by in chunks, and I struggled to get the point of the story as a whole. It doesn't help that I'm not a fan of stories that skip wildly ahead, missing out the choices, the stories between, and the context of how their lives ended up where there are now. It lacked intensity for me, which was only regained in the last section.
Many have said this book is similar to Uprooted, another book I only partly enjoyed. I didn't find much similarity between the two books, apart from the Eastern-European setting, but everything I didn't like about Uprooted was stronger in The Bear and the Nightingale. The slow pace, the heavy prose, the distance from the characters. Although I got bored of Uprooted, I found more to love in it, and where Uprooted felt lyrical and beautiful, this book just felt heavy.
All I can say is that I enjoyed parts, but I was mostly bored. I'm really sad that I couldn't get out of it that everyone else seems to be able to so easily. It's a well loved book by most of the rest of the reading community, so worth a spin if nothing I've said has put you off.
Source: Bought it!