Fiction Book Reviews

Magical fairy tale retelling | The Bear and the Nightingale

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I’ve always had a fascination with fairy tales … the archetypes lay bare human nature and can offer a way through a dilemma or help us come to a realisation.  The Bear and the Nightingale (part re-telling of Russian folklore) is a read that transported me to a time in medieval history where I experienced a different culture and the mythology of magic and monsters.  If you enjoyed Uprooted by Naomi Novik then you’ll want to pick up a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale.


Format: Kindle Edition

File Size: 2983 KB

Print Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Ebury Digital (12 Jan. 2017)

Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.

Language: English


‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.

The Vladimirovich family have been fasting for 6 weeks in late winter and are gathered around the fire with Dunya to hear the story of Morozko (Father Frost).  Life in Northern Rus is harsh and feeble mother Marina is pregnant.  She knows she will be a girl child and be like her own ancestor (who could tame animals, dream the future and summon rain).  Vasya is born in November to the accompaniment of howling winds and as soon as she can walk, disappears into the forest.  Vasya fascinated me!  She’s a contradiction of earthiness and yet she’s ethereal (very different to her siblings who all dote on her and try to keep her safe).  There are some harrowing and dark scenes but I didn’t lose faith in her.  She’s a character that we see grow from a 6 year old to a young adult, and we’ve only experienced the very beginning of her power.  I’m eager to see how this will develop in the next book.

When egotistic and charismatic priest Father Konstantin Nikonovich comes to the village he causes so many problems.  Brainwashing the community into fearing their own pagan beliefs (I couldn’t help but picture Dobby!) and shaking the foundations of their world. There is a depth of emotion running through this conflict, tangling Vasya and her step-mother Anna into this darkness.  You can’t help but feel raw to witness (and be a part of) this shadow side of life.

The settings are so easy to visualise from the contrast of barren and isolated life in Northern Rus to the teeming and opulent Moscow; from village to city.  I could feel that bone freezing cold, experienced the heat working in the fields and feared the forest.  I stood in the main hall waiting for the Grand Prince to notice me and stood in the market place waiting to travel home.

I have a few questions I’m hoping will be answered and a character who I think has a vital part to play moving forward (but I can’t figure out what).  I’m looking forward to finding out where the story will take us in the next book.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a story of myth, magic and adventure.  It’s a coming of age story with a kickass heroine who dances to her own beat yet considers everyone and everything.  There’s plenty of conflict, sacrifice and a fledgling romance.  It will take you to the depths of emotions while you walk the shadow side with the characters but give you hope that life can be saved.

A recommended read from me.

[pipdig_stars rating=”4.5″ align=”center”]


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Family comes first! I'm married with two son's in their 20's and have a little more time now to follow my passions. I love my role as an Inclusion Lead in KS2 and I'm passionate about early help. I'm a member of Bournemouth's Early Help Operational Board working alongside others to instigate change and growth. I'm also passionate about my love of reading, being out in nature and creating with crochet. I've been blogging for eight years at Jera's Jamboree.

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