The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is based on Russian folklore, and abounds with Russian myths and monsters. It also takes a deep dive into the Russian culture and mindset of the 15th century, which makes it a welcome standout from the realms of generic European fantasy. A lot of this story takes place in the depths of winter, and the author is very good with mood and setting. You can feel the cold and hear the snow crunching under your feet.
However, this is a first book, and it suffers from some first-novel problems. For me, in particular, pacing and point-of-view were issues. The story seemed to drag in places, particularly in the first half. Admittedly, a lot of this is necessary setup and backstory, but that didn't make the pages turn any faster. Also, a great deal of this is written in omniscient third-person POV, which I hate. If you're going to have multiple viewpoint characters, fine, but at least use chapter or scene breaks to differentiate them. Headsurfing in the middle of a paragraph does nothing except yank me out of the story. It just felt as if the book could have used one more editing pass.
Having said all this, when the author finally gets rolling, the story shines. The latter half of the book is much better than the first half. Vasya, the protagonist, is a lovely character, the girl with the Sight who can see the demons and save her village, even though the village does not deserve her. I particularly liked the ending, when Vasya knows she cannot stay, and makes up her mind to leave her village and make her way in the world, throwing off the shackles the society of the time put on women. I think this portends an exciting story in the sequel. This book is flawed, but this is a promising new writer, and I shall look for the next book.
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