The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, review by Lauren Dalhaus
Katherine Arden will be receiving an email from me thanking her for not just her first book, but for promising me a trilogy to one of the most captivating novels that I have read in several years. She has performed a magnificent feat by producing a fantastical story which is simultaneously historical fiction, magical realism, and a medieval fairy tale. The Bear and the Nightingale is not a rarity in having an arresting beginning, or for having superb storytelling, although these are both undeniable qualities that are immediately evident; what is remarkable is that the story is enchanting in a way that is nearly entrancing, and from the first page on, it maintains an all-encompassing aura of surreptitious energy and unwavering momentum. Not once did I find my interest flagging.
The spectacular set of characters and antagonists in this book will make it an absolute delight to the imagination. To those of us who are familiar only with Baba Yaga, characters such as the chyertyie, Morozhko, and the uypyr are the possibly-benign but mildly horrific extra cast that we've been hoping would arrive. There were scenes in this book that resonated deeply with echoes of Nikolai Gogol's timelessly creepy stories in "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka," and even rivaled the suspense driven terror in "Viy." Perhaps taking cues from classics such as these, and drawing on the very human battle against fear and those driven by it, Katherine Arden has mastered both the light and shadows in this mystical tale of medieval Russia.