Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale

Children's Book.

You know there  are those books you fly through because you are enjoying them so much and then you  suddenly realise that you wish with all your heart that you had read them slower because they were just so wonderful?  This book is one to add to that number. It was an utter delight!

I guess it is because there is a seam of slavic blood running through my veins as thick as your arm, that made  a tale of old world charm set in Russia about a feisty young heroine who places family above all so attractive to me. This is chock full of just the sort of lore and myths that make my little heart sing. Creatures who live in the stables and look after the horses, women of the river and even a little man who lives in the oven just enrich this tale of a girl born into a  power she does not understand and  into a village wracked by hunger in the deep of  winter. This is a place where the rule of the Christian Orthodoxy battles with the ancient traditions that see folk offering food and sometimes even blood to assuage the appetites of the household spirits who provide protection in the harshest times.

Two Mythic Brothers of massive power  are battling for the hearts and minds of Vanya and her Village. She, the green eyed daughter  of the Local Lord, whose  equally beautiful mother died in childbirth to bring her into the world. She protects her entire family and her village with a wildness that does not need societal niceties, despite being branded a witch and consorts with Demons.

She sees what the other villagers only vaguely believe in through tradition or habit. She sees the creatures of other worlds hidden behind the veil of pragmatism and practicality Her step mother Anna  is equally as sensitive  to the spirits but she is affected by horrors and guilts where Vanya is innocently accepting. Anna cleaves to the word of a charismatic and ambitious priest, sent to the village to prevent a rapturous adoring congregation elevating him above his station by the jealous Prince. His machinations and desires could mean more than parishioner  souls are lost from the fold.

A tale of Princes and Kings, seasons and spells, of tales and betrayals, and Faith versus Religion. For a relatively short tale it is rich with magic and family loyalties with much scope for more from this world with an ending that can be interpreted in a number of ways and enough threads left unravelled enough to enable another but woven enough to stand alone as an excellent and engaging tale!

I have not enjoyed a book  so very much for a very long time. Yes this is a children's book, but we are all children in the dead of night when the wind is whistling and the house is creaking. We all see things in the shadows and who is to say that movement is not a little creature who lives in our central heating boiler?

Katherine Arden has written a sure footed and accomplished  first novel with a deft hand with the myth and legend whilst still making her human characters fallible and engaging. Her story- telling is bright  and fresh and the tale remains with me even now and I hope that more is forthcoming!

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