Friday, July 7, 2017

Audiobook Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Series: The Bear and the Nightingale #1
Author: Katherine Arden
Narrator: Kathleen Gati
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Russian Folklore/Fairytales
Running Time: 11 hours, 48 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Overdrive

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of the house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. 

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. 

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows even harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. 

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales. 

My Thoughts: This is the first adult novel that I have listened to on audio so this may be a little more of a review on the audiobook in general than the story itself. 
Without the print version, I had the hardest time keeping up with the names and Russian words. I cannot tell you any names from this story beyond Vassa, Anna, Dunya, and Irena and I'm not even sure I'm spelling those correctly without looking it up first. This has more to do with my ignorance of Russian names and language and less to do with the audiobook experience. On my part, it probably wasn't the best choice but at the time it was the only audiobook available that interested me. 

The first half of this book was rather dull. I do believe I would have had a hard time with it in print form. Something about the narrator's voice kept me interested even though nothing was really happening plot-wise, though. We learn that V's mother dies, her father remarries, that the house has spirits (or demons as her stepmother, Anna, calls them), and that V is a bit of a wild child, living outside more than in. The story revolves more around her family and their drama at first, with her being the odd child in the background. But as she grows, these other characters start to pay more attention and notice her wild ways.

We finally get into the fantasy elements in the second half of the book, when V is a young woman. This is when most of her family and the townspeople have forsaken the usual tidings given to the house spirits and these spirits or demons start to appear more and more. This does not go over well with the (now) very devout family members and townspeople and V, being the odd man out, is thought to be the cause. 

I did really enjoy V as a character. She's strong, courageous, and a bit of a feminist, in a culture where women are either married off or sent to a convent. 

After doing a little bit of research on this Russian fairytale, I have learned that this particular story is based on the tale of Frost, a winter spirit known as Morozko in this story. Without having any prior knowledge of this or any other Russian folklore, I must say that this reminded me a little of Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones just without all the romance. I certainly will be on the look out for more stories like this so I can learn a bit more about these fairytales in the future. 

Rating: 3.5 stars


  1. I have found that I can only listen to contemporaries and usually choose contemporary romances, because the stories are less complex than SFF books. With SFF you have the world and characters to keep track of. It's too many details for me without seeing the words (I am a visual learner). I am interested in reading this book though, because I have heard so many good things.

  2. Nice blog!

    I gave your blog a follow, and I would truly appreciate it if you could check out my book reviews blog located at and possibly give it a follow as well! Looking forward to reading more of your reviews!

    - El

  3. Ya know I tried to listen to this and set it aside and I listen to a lot of audios.

  4. I've been looking forward to reading this book, and I think I will have to stick with the print book. Like Sam above, I'm more of a visual learner; with a book where it can be hard to keep track of the names, I find it easier to see them. I'm still planning to read it, though!