Source: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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The Bear and the Nightingale incorporates Russian folklore and history to create a beautiful, mesmerising and immersive fantasy.
In a time where women are very much expected to be in the kitchen and their main purpose to marry and bear children, Vasya is more at home outdoors with nature and in the stables. She has been gifted with the sight which means she can see the spirits who protect their house and the surrounding forest. When her stepmother arrives who also has the sight but deems the spirits as demons and is terrified, and the arrival of a priest who uses this to make the village abandon the spirits in favour of god, Vasya is quickly cast as a witch but is determined to use her powers to protect her family.
It's not a fast read but instead slowly and steadily unravels so as not to give away all its secrets at once. This does mean that the pace and plot dip at times but there's always something waiting just around the corner to lift things back up. I admit I'm not usually a fan of such a gradual unraveling and prefer a faster pace, but I think it works wonderfully in The Bear and the Nightingale. I enjoyed the development of the characters over time and think the slow progress is fitting to the often harsh and slow winters experienced by the characters.
I have no experience of Russian folklore but I think it is obvious that a lot of thought and research has been put into the story and I really appreciate all the small details. My only real complaint is that the Frost-Demon isn't in the story much until the end (and not even much then) and that some plot details aren't quite thoroughly explained (such as the necklace). With more books in the series planned, though, I'm hopeful that this is still to come.
A truly magical and intriguing read.