I’ve been hearing about The Bear and the Nightingale all year and I’ve been meaning to read it for months. It’s gotten rave reviews, and it seemed like the perfect book for me. So when I saw that the second book in the Winternight Trilogy – The Girl in the Tower – was available, I requested it so that I could read both books together.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
Synopsis of The Bear and the Nightingale
(From Goodreads) 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.
I had such high hopes for this series. But, unfortunately, I didn’t connect with the characters at all, and struggled through The Bear and the Nightingale. It was one of those books I could tell was good, but just wasn’t for me. It happens, but it was really disappointing in this case, because I really wanted to like this series.
The writing itself is great, in both books. Embellished writing can often go wrong, but I think Katherine Arden definitely has talent. The imagery was beautiful and added so much to the story. Even though I didn’t connect to it as much as I would like, I kind of loved the setting. I definitely have a soft spot for anything wintry, and these books fit the bill. As for the story itself, I think it definitely improved in the second book. The Girl in the Tower is slightly faster-paced and more engaging. I did enjoy the magical/fairy tale elements – they easily bumped each book up a star for me. It was wonderfully atmospheric, and I think I can safely say that was the highlight of each book for me.
As for the characters, I just didn’t love them as much as I wanted to. A part of that was because Arden uses an element of Russian literature I kind of hate: nicknames. Almost every character had one or more nicknames, which meant it took longer for me to get the hang of who was who. I didn’t think it was entirely necessary, especially since the nicknames were often longer or significantly different than the character’s actual name. It’s just something I don’t like in books, and it almost always prevents me from fully connecting with the characters.
Overall, I truly think these are great books. Just not for me. If you like fantasy, The Bear an the Nightingale is certainly worth a try (though I can’t recommend the audiobook). And if you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, I think you will definitely like The Girl in the Tower.
★★☆☆☆ – To be fair, I think my trouble connecting with The Bear and the Nightingale may be due to the fact that I tried to listen to the audiobook – the narration isn’t bad, per se, but it is kind of difficult to pay attention to. But even when I tried to read the book, I just couldn’t get into it. I may attempt a reread someday, but for now I’m leaving it at two stars.
★★★☆☆ – I thought The Girl in the Tower was slightly better than The Bear and the Nightingale. I’m not sure if it was enough to convince me to read the final book in the trilogy, but we’ll see.
The Girl in the Tower was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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