It’s Witch Week! Last year was the first year I participated in this event and I loved it!
This is a yearly event that runs from October 30th to November 6th focusing on fantasy authors and books and is named after the book Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones.
It was originally created by Lory at Emerald City Book Review but this year it is co-hosted by Calmgrove and Lizzie Ross. The theme this year is Feminism and Fantasy and the read along book is The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin. Be sure to stop by both their blogs to see what they have planned for the week and to participate in the read along discussion!
My fantasy read for this event is The Bear And The Nightingale by Katherine Arden.
I’m a bit late to The Bear And The Nightingale party. It seems that everyone was reading this book last year. It is Katherine Arden’ s debut novel and the first book in her Winternight Trilogy. This book beautifully transports the reader into another world in far away Russia, or Rus’ in this story. It’s more fairytale than fantasy, but it has fantasy aspects within the fairytale. It has talking horses, homes you need imagination to see clearly and fantastic spirit beings that only those with special abilities can see. Do fairytale and fantasy overlap in some areas? I think so. It also fits into the theme this year because the protagonist, Vasya, is determined to make her own way and live her own life.
Vasilisa Petrovna (Vasya) is special and before she was even born, her mother knew she would be born with abilities and she would be like her grandmother. Vasya has a gift: she can see her household spirits and the spirits of her nearby forest. Her mother died shortly after she was born and her family believes she would benefit from a mother’s presence to soften and control her independent nature. When her father remarries it’s not quite the change the family expected. However, when the village gets a new priest and her stepmother, Anna, makes a startling confession, old ways are challenged and changes begin to occur.
I enjoyed this book. It is an amazing debut novel! The setting and the storytelling drew me in from the very beginning. I loved being transported to far away Rus’. I liked the fairytale aspect and I enjoyed being introduced to characters such as the Domovoi, Rusalka and the frost-demon, Morozko. These characters are such a huge part of the story and not just because Vasya can see and interact with them. It is because of who they are; they are so real with distinct personalities. I didn’t realize they were part of Slavic mythology until I read this book and they were very interesting characters worth taking the time to learn more about. I loved Vasya and how this stubborn, willful girl loved her family and cared about others. It is clear from the beginning that she is special not because she has abilities but because she is such an individual! In the beginning of the novel, we saw Vasya as a free-spirited little girl. She made it very clear later on in the book that a dutiful and obedient wife she would never be…with a spectacular display of bravery and skill to boot. I enjoyed watching her grow and begin to come into her own.
Father Konstantin was a horrible priest! Cleary, he is intended to be an unlikable character. Proud and arrogant– and ultimately cruel– he wanted power, but Vasya saw through him and called him on his cruelty.
I thought it was sad that Vasya and Anna didn’t connect more. They were similar in some ways: they could both see the spirits that inhabit their home, but they were so unlike each other in every other way. Vasya could see and interact with the spirits but was confident and lived in harmony with the natural world, which included the spirits. Anna, on the other hand, saw the spirits as demons, and considered herself “mad” because of it; she lived in fear, especially of the spirits she saw. If they had connected, they could have given each other support and friendship. In Anna, I do not see an evil stepmother, though. It’s true that she was far from kind to Vasya, but Anna didn’t understand her gift and it caused her to withdraw in fear rather than reach out in compassion and kindness. I felt sorry for Anna. Life could have been very different for her.
There was very little I disliked about this book, but, in general, I don’t care for stories involving the undead. That’s just me and others may not feel the same way. That was only a part of the story though and I saw that even this creature, the upyr, plays a part in Russian folklore. This storyline also showed Vasya defying logic and taking a risk to reach someone she loved.
This book is more than a fairytale, though, it’s a story of a girl who yearns for more. Vasya doesn’t fit into her society and she wants more out of life than that allotted to women. Her gifting and her individuality caused her to be misunderstood, but it was also the way that she helped her family and community. Now, she will make her own way and I am looking forward to reading what happens next in The Girl In The Tower!
“Unnatural thing,” said her brother, but he was more sad than angry. “Can you not be content? Men will forget about all this in time, and what you call cages is the lot of women.”
“It is not mine,” said Vasya. “I love you, Lyoshka. I love you both. But I cannot.”