Oh man did I ever luck into a run of good books last week. First The Steerswoman, then Exit West, and now The Bear and the Nightingale. It's weeks like last week that make me thankful beyond belief that I'm alive and have so many new, exciting, and surprising books to read. I went into The Bear and the Nightingale with zero expectations, and couldn't have been more pleased with the Russian-flavored fantasy that I found. If there's nothing else that I've learned from books like this and Uprooted, it's that I've got a taste for eastern European flavored fantasy, or even just fantasy based on magical traditions that aren't the usual western European medieval traditions that I grew up reading. It's all new! And different! And exciting! To me, at least. Whether it's that to someone who's more familiar with those traditions, I don't know. But diversity in the cultures depicted in our fantasy stories is never a bad thing in my book.
On top of just being different, The Bear and the Nightingale is a well-written story about Vasilisa, the daughter of a line of witches who's father tries to bring her up like a normal girl despite the fact that she can speak to the old spirits of the home, horses, and forest. Vasilisa isn't traditionally beautiful, and from the moment that she's born she's different, always running away to the forest and getting dirty, teaching herself to ride horses and asking her father for a knife while her proper sisters learn to embroider and bake bread. While the special-girl-who-isn't-like-other-girls-and-doesn't-like-girl-things is a bit of a trope, it's one that gets me in the heart every time as someone who was a weird-girl-who-doesn't-like-girl-things growing up myself. And Vasilisa's story is complicated by a preacher intent on stomping out the old ways of leaving offerings for the spirits in favor of Christianity, which by depriving the good spirits of strength gives an ancient evil a chance to break free and wreck havoc on Vasilisa's home, which brings and interesting conversation about religion, proselytization, and clashing cultures into the story.
All in all I really enjoyed this book, and I can't wait to read the other two books in the trilogy! Highly recommend.
5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.