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Publisher's Summary

Katherine Arden’s best-selling debut novel spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.  

“A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up.” (Naomi Novik, best-selling author of Uprooted)

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.   

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.   

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed - to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.   

Praise for The Bear and the Nightingale

“Arden’s debut novel has the cadence of a beautiful fairy tale but is darker and more lyrical.” (The Washington Post)

“Vasya [is] a clever, stalwart girl determined to forge her own path in a time when women had few choices.” (The Christian Science Monitor)

“Stunning...will enchant readers from the first page....with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate.” (Publishers Weekly [starred review])

“Utterly bewitching...a lush narrative...an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family.” (Booklist [starred review])

“An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale... The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic.” (Robin Hobb)

©2017 Katherine Arden (P)2017 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Arden's supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist." (Kirkus Reviews)

What listeners say about The Bear and the Nightingale

Average Customer Ratings
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    4 out of 5 stars
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Great story with horrible narration

A compelling and interesting story with strong traditional Russian elements. I have no idea what the narrator was trying to accomplish with that weird and annoying accent she invented. It sounds nothing like a Slavic accent. It made it a difficult listen.

6 people found this helpful

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stunning

the narrator could not have been more perfect. lush, brilliant, unique, the writing is just lovely. a perfect fantasy, but a tinge of truth in regards to christian suppression, and a nod to romance to come. 4 stars for story telling only because I felt it was a bit slow to start. otherwise... loved it!

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Disappointed

Did not enjoy the narrator's attempt at voices/accents, and she frequently mispronounced common words. The characters became confusing for this reason, as well as the various nicknames for each individual. It droned on and was boring in a trope-filled, predictable way.

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An enjoyable fairytale

While the beginning felt rather slow and there were many names to keep track of, it picked up its pace and became interesting by part 2. Good narrating.

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Love the magic

My first Audible listen and I loved it. Great story. I will be listening to the rest of the trilogy too.

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Accesible Fantasty

This is a book I first tried to read via traditional text formatting, but due to my dyslexia, some of the names were hard for my brain to process it, but once I got it via the audible books the story itself unfolded with soft wonder. I appreciated the narrator and their management of the story. I like the different feel of the Russian fairy tale than the Western German/France narratives I'm usually introduced too. I'm interested in where this is going. #Audible1

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An enchanting fairytale and brilliant debut novel

This lush novel evokes dark, cold winter nights in feudal Russia and the clash between pagan folk traditions and Christianity.

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  • jp
  • 2018-08-29

Wonderfully rich story

Wonderfully rich story with sympathetic characters and superb narration. Have not enjoyed a book like this since Guy Gavriel Kay

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A satisfying listen

Takes a bit to get going but the last few chapters are worth the wait. I had to listen!

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stopped listening around 40%

It just wasn't for me. The characters were hard to get into and the names really threw me off. The narrator does a good job but her Russian accent is almost too good, I had a hard time understanding some of the Russian/ English dialogue and it confused me. This may be better read on physical book and I plan on trying again.

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  • Crystal Midkiff
  • 2017-02-04

I was swept away

This was such a wonderful story that I honestly got lost in it and it was unlike any book I have read. It was also familiar, in a way, and reminded me of stories my own grandmother used to tell me when I was little. This is a story with a strong protagonist, rich characters and an enchanting story that proves you are never too old for fairy tales. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially someone who loves folktales and especially on a cold night with warm tea handy!

77 people found this helpful

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  • Jan
  • 2017-01-28

Culture-Rich, Unusual, Captivating


This novel of Russian Folklore is beautifully written with smooth narration. Arden paints a great mental landscape with rich descriptions Russia and it's culture. If this is a fairy tale, it is an adult fairy tale.

The atmosphere is similar to Marillier's "Blackthorn and Grim," Joyce's "Some Kind of Fairy Tale," and "The Snow Child."

I love books that grab my attention from page one and maintain it until I hear "Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program." The Bear and the Nightingale did that for me.

91 people found this helpful

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  • Eri
  • 2017-07-28

A thrilling historical fantasy

Any additional comments?

The Bear and the Nightingale swept me off my feet. Everything about it drew me in and kept me from putting the book down - I finished it in just a week, reading several hours a night. Katherine Arden is a remarkably gifted world-builder and her prose style is gorgeous; the book comes to life before your eyes. I felt like I was in medieval Russia with the vivid, yet not overwhelming, description. That's a balance that seems to elude most modern-day authors, but when on the rare occasion one finds it as Arden did, everyone wins.

I know almost nothing of Russian history or folklore beyond the context of this book, so my commentary on the cultural and historical aspects of the story is useless. Regardless, I found the mythological aspects thrilling. Without any pre-existing understanding, it took me a while to figure out what some of the creatures were and their significance. I wasn't sure if they were malevolent or misunderstood. It's difficult to explain exactly what they are - personifications and guardian spirits, or perhaps both. I was reminded of Miyazaki's Spirited Away in this sense, which I thought was pretty interesting given the very different and separate contexts. Strangely enough, I think this comparison actually helped me get the concept of the Russian spirits better than I might have otherwise.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book - Vasya, especially, but also Dunya and even Ana (only as a character, not a person). To expand on that - Ana had a lot of dynamicism and I went through a whole cycle of emotions towards her throughout the story (although none of those emotions was fondness).

The relationship between Dunya and Marina and then Dunya and Vasya was... just beautiful. Vasya herself was so easy to love - it sounds like a simple thing, but writing a character the reader is meant to love can go so terribly wrong, and there is no worse fate for a character than to become a Mary Sue. Vasya managed to be noble, courageous, persevering, and full of strength and fortitude without ever dipping a toe into those deadly waters. I loved her character and getting the reader to love Vasya was such a critical accomplishment. No matter how beautiful the prose and elaborate the world-building, The Bear and the Nightingale is Vasya's story - for it to work, the reader has to love Vasya; there is no other option. Arden accomplished this brilliantly.

I found the religious conflict in the story to be interesting, although there were points that I wasn't comfortable with. I really enjoyed the way Arden portrayed the merging of traditional Russian spiritual beliefs with newly-imparted Christianity in Pyotr's lands. Being that Pyotr and his family did not live in the central kingdom of Moscow (where, it appears, due to the strong influence of the king, other religious customs were no longer tolerated), it made sense that, having less pressure on them to fully devote themselves to Christianity, the transition would have been less of a conversion than an incorporation of new and old belief systems. This has been the case in innumerable cultures worldwide as varying religions spread.

However, the character of Konstantin was an issue for me. In the beginning, Konstantin is an excellent and devoted priest and when he discovers that Pyotr and his people are still honoring old spiritual customs, it concerns him. This makes sense, as his role is to lead the people in the religion adopted by the king in Moscow, which is Catholicism. However, my real issue was that the only two really negatively-portrayed characters in the book are Konstantin and Ana, who are, simultaneously, the only two characters with a strong devotion to Christianity. Yes, all the characters are Christian - but many, such as Dunya, also remember the time before the adoption of Christianity, and therefore have a strong respect for the old beliefs themselves, and so do their children. Konstantin also later becomes unwittingly corrupted by the evil of the Bear and completely loses sight of his old self and begins to struggle immensely with temptations, and his motivations with regard to "leading his flock" so to speak, lose their initial good intention. My issue wasn't so much the character of a fallen or corrupted priest but that there was a strong dichotomy between the two predominantly Christian characters and everyone else. It did give me a vibe of anti-Christian sentiment, which was unfortunate.

Aside from these criticisms, I thought this was a wonderful read. I didn't realize it is to be part of a series, so I am looking forward to reading the next installment!

51 people found this helpful

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  • T. Winter
  • 2017-05-12

Blah.

I found this book quite boring and ordinary. I loved Novik's Uprooted, so I jumped at this one after hearing the comparisons. My family was part of the old Russian nobility, so I grew up hearing anecdotes about the way of life back then and tend to like stories with those parallels. Also, I love Russian fairy tales. I expected to absolutely adore this book.

However, I just didn't find it remotely interesting. I tried for a long time to stick with it due to the reviews, but it was a huge chore. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing it had in common with Uprooted was the similar geography and the narrator's accent (that part was nice, I admit). This book was obviously meant to read like a fairy tale, but if it did it was an extremely tedious one. The characters were boring and unsympathetic. In certain parts of the book, time passed so quickly you couldn't really get to know anyone or become attached, yet you were still supposed to feel something when their minor interests were somehow threatened.

If I had to pin it down, I would say a common theme was that the author *told* you why you should love her characters or care what they did, i.e., "she was a beautiful, bright child" (when of course everything that came out of her mouth was ridiculous), or "he wanted to join the brotherhood more than anything else in the world" (and then forgetting about it for five chapters before bringing it up again), instead of *showing* you. Sorry, but it's not that easy. And it shouldn't be.

There was more wrong with it than that, but in general the problem was that it was simply boring. I can't for the life of me understand the reviews. Suffice it to say, I just didn't fall for it or see it the same way others seemed to. Too bad. I would have liked a good fairy tale.

63 people found this helpful

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  • ShirleyC
  • 2017-03-04

I have missed reading enough book reviews.

How ELSE can I explain having missed this author & this title until now? I am certain that reviewers have been as favorable (or moreso!) about her perfect accent - American OR Russian - as well as her ability to add more than a soupçon of interest to narration .

Absolutely fresh and refreshing, learning about Russian fables....made all the more delightful by the narrator, Kathleen Gati. She injects a certain Eastern focus by explaining, for example, the lore surrounding "Frost", which is most interestingly and definitely different the "Jack Frost" tales we have here in the USA.

Last, but far and away from "least" for the author, Katherine Arden, a huge "BRAVA" for her ability to bring Russian tales to light and sprinkling them them throughout to honestly picture the difference between East and West -- even to the "tales" we honor by passing them on the next generation. AND to presenting us with memorable insight to what makes our fairy tales so very entertaining, in this case, the "Eastern" focus and it's impact on both the story, the characters and the reader. Again, "BRAVA!" -- and "Thank You!"

20 people found this helpful

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  • laura
  • 2019-06-20

Ok folktale, with 20 hours Russian winter to get through.

The overall story was an interesting folktale. The issue is there are hours and hours and HOURS of characters and details that have zero to do with this storyline. Hours! I actually loved the description and detail of winter, local foods, dress etc. however 10 winters later I was over hearing how the sun makes the snow sparkle and the forest is spooky. However, in all that time the one story she did not manage to tell were the details behind THIS folktale. The ending didn’t make any sense compared to the focus on this one girl. I see there are further books, but I have Russian story fatigue and can’t bring myself to do it.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Driskellmom
  • 2017-02-08

Similar in feel to "Uprooted", I loved it

Reading other reviews, I was pleased to see several mentions of Naomi Novik's "Uprooted" in comparison to this fantasy. The language is lovely, not stilted, and the descriptions sit in a satisfactory way in the mouth. The narrator of the audiobook version did a wonderful Russian accent, not too heavy in the vowels, not hard to follow. I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Jeremy
  • 2017-04-07

An Impoverished Fantasy

What makes good scifi / fantasy is its resonance. You can have dragons, aliens, mermaids, wizards, magic, but all of those fantastical elements should call to our world in some way. Monsters are real. This is why Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Song of Ice & Fire all work is because we recognize the truth underneath the magical. The Bear and the Nightingale lacks resonance because there doesn't seem to be anything real within the story. The monster is ill defined, the hero lacks cohesion, all characters seem to lack motivation.

What is so frustrating is that there is a really great book in here somewhere. I want to read about Russian folklore. I want to read about what life was like for a village in Northern Russia during winter.

I really wanted to like this book, I'm only about one hour from finishing, and I'm not sure I'll actually take the time.

75 people found this helpful

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  • Miki
  • 2018-12-31

Christians bad, witches good.

Christians bad, witches, who converse with demons, good. It’s just that simple. (Less than 15 words).

5 people found this helpful

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  • Lady of the Lake
  • 2017-03-03

I would give this six stars if I could

She is a fantastic story teller I loved every bit of this book

I cannot put it down.

17 people found this helpful