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The Bear and the Nightingale    by Katherine Arden order for
Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale is an enchanting coming of age, as well as an alternate history imbued with strong elements of magic in old Russia. In this stirring tale, spirited young Vasilisa sees the otherworld (invisible to most) and does what it takes to protect those she loves.

Vasilisa is the daughter of Rus' boyar Pyotr Vladimirovich. Since the death of her mother Marina (a witch-woman's daughter) when she was born, Vasya and her siblings have been raised by their mother's nurse, old Dunya. She loves to tell them tales, including the story of Frost, the demon of winter and of the lovely young woman whose stepmother sent her to him, with unexpected consequences.

Vasya is an ugly little girl, a wild child who roams the forest. Her father weds again, marrying the deeply religious princess Anna who sees the otherworld (and is considered mad as a result), but assumes that everything there is evil and to be feared. Her new stepmother disapproves of Vasya and strives to change her. And her usual protectors are absent - her elder brother and sister are sent to Moscow.

Meanwhile, there are those in the otherworld with plans to use Vasya. The Bear 'who wants to eat the world' is awakening and works through a charismatic golden-haired priest, Father Semyon, for whom Anna will do anything. Vasya has some allies and hears a prophecy that 'You will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, weep for a nightingale, and die by your own choosing.' A very hard winter follows and the story of Frost unfolds once more.

I thoroughly enjoyed sharing this very courageous young woman's journey and will be looking for more from this talented author.

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