I always check out Booktime magazine when it comes into the library. On the front recently was Katherine Arden’s debut Fantasy novel, The bear and the nightingale. I don’t know much about Russian history, or their fairy tales, so I was definitely curious.
Set in the bitterest of winters, in a village in Northern Russia, the tale opens with elderly nurse Dunya retelling the story of the Frost and Winter King to a family huddled around the oven. Pyotr, left struggling with strong-willed young daughter Vasya after the death of his wife, heads to Moscow to secure a new marriage. There he is gifted with a strange trinket for his daughter from a stranger with piercing blue eyes. When his new wife Anna arrives at the village, condemning the old ways, everything changes.
What I loved about this book was the way that Arden managed to combine Russian history- the scenery, clothes, food, family (in the back is a useful glossary that I wish I had seen earlier!)- with folklore and magic. Each character was painted perfectly. What followed was a wonderful story centred around the clash between organised religion and the traditional household gods and spirits. I’m not normally a fan of fantasy, but I was fascinated from beginning to end.