Zd… zdrast… zdravstvuyte (yeah I googled it), comrades. How goes it? I myself am scrambling to assemble the most gratuitously purple wedding since Barney married Mrs Barney, and to put it lightly, I am 👏 losing 👏 my 👏 motherfucking 👏 mind 👏
ANYWAY LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BOOK BEFORE I CRY AGAIN.
Today I’m reviewing a book that’s been at the top of my tbr forEVER but which only just this week I felt ready to pick up. It’s Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, the first book in the Winternight trilogy. Let’s boo boo.
Ah yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah buddy. That’s the good stuff right there. On the left is the Amerian cover, and on the right, the UK cover. I actually think they’re both great, and in different ways, both very fitting for the story being told. My soviet ass is slightly more drawn to the UK cover, because of course.
The Summary Heist
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 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 ever 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.
Oh boy, where do I even start? I could, as always, sum up in my feelings in a single gif:
It’s good, guys. It’s so so so so good. Strong characters, strong plot, uber-strong writing – there really isn’t anything missing. But the best part, for me, was the atmosphere. You guys know I’m a sucker for anything Russian-y, but that often tends to be Slavic fantasy or reinterpreted myths. This is close to the latter, but because it’s set in medieval Russia. it feels different from anything else I’ve read. Every time I had to put the book down to, you know, do life stuff, I was disappointed, and my head definitely stayed in Vasya’s world, even if my actual body was stuck irl like a loser.
Also, Arden did a fantastic job with the mythology. The textual records for pre-Christian Slavic mythology are almost nonexistent, and what we do have is often contradictory and never simple. Somehow she managed to wrangle domovoi, leshiye, and rusalkas into a cohesive mythos, and I salute her.
So yeah, I am besotted, BESOTTED I SAY. This book was all my feminist Slavic fairy-tale dreams come true. I am about to read the second book in the trilogy, The Girl in the Tower, and I can’t wait for a certain someone to kiss a certain someone else WINK WINK.
Read it NOW. This has the rare READING ROBYN GUARANTEE.
Sooooo many good lines in this book, you have no idea. Of course, one of the stand-outs is Vasya’s feminist manifesto:
“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
But another favourite comes from Mr Frost magic tutorial, and might actually be my new morning motivation quote:
“You are too attached to things as they are,” said Morozko, combing the mare’s withers. He glanced down idly. “You must allow things to be what best suits your purpose. And then they will.” Vasya,”
Young Vasya – Disaster Girl
Older Vasya – Eleanor Tomlinson
Dunya – me in 10 years
Konstantin – the guy who looks like that cat
Morozko – Oscar Isaac without a beard??? I dunno, this one stumped me fam
Solovey – this guy
Book Boyfriend material
The rusalka, that bitch was cold.
10 out of 10 (yes, I said it) grumpy little domovoi hiding under the table, doing all your mending, you ungrateful bastards.
ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT
Man, sometimes I wish I could just pick up and run away to a secret little cottage in the Russian wilderness, with only my cats and my books and the domovoi to keep me company. I would plant a field of sunflowers around the house, and the flowers would keep out any strangers who wanted to disturb me. I’d paint the door blue for luck, and hang crystals in the windows like a basic bitch. I’d have bees for honey, and in the summer the bears would bring me fish from the river. When I got lonely, I would visit Baba Yaga cause that bitch has allll the tea.
– xo, R
P.S. the stunning gifs are from a Russia-based artist named Alexandra Dvornikova, everything she makes is BEAUTIFUL. You can follow here on tumblr here.