Much like last year, my first 5 star book of the year came to me courtesy of my brother, who’s turning out to be quite the amazing book giver. The Bear and the Nightingale ticked so many boxes for me – well realised characters and setting, great world-building, oodles of imagination and conjuring the sorts of feelings you get from the better, darker fairytales – I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to be reading it all of the time (and did pretty much ignore everyone around me for its duration), while also wanting it to last forever.
In medieval Russia, in a village surrounded by the forest, Marina dies whilst giving birth to her last child, Vasya. Having inherited her mother’s strange gifts, Vasya grows up wild, forever disappearing into the forest or the stables and inhabiting a different world to that of her family. In her world, she can see and learn from the spirits that guard her home, while in the world of her people such visions are seen as madness and witchcraft. With the arrival of a new stepmother and a priest ready to put the fear of God into the community, they start to turn away from the Old Ways, no longer leaving offerings for the household spirits and leaving themselves unprotected against the darkness that is stirring in the forest that only Vasya has a chance of saving them from.
The Bear and the Nightingale was an enchanting, perfect read for a dark and especially chilly winter, making me want to dive deep under the blankets while wishing for my own forest on the doorstep, and I’m glad to see that this is the start of a series, giving me more of this world to wrap myself up in.