Review: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE, by Katherine Arden (scheduled for publication January 17. 2017.)
Rated 4 out of 5 stars by Iris Chacon. (The reviewer was provided an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest, objective review.)
This is an impeccable debut novel by an erudite, multi-lingual, well-traveled and imaginative author. Katherine Arden knows and understands the culture of which she writes, and she carries the reader away to the frigid tundra of tsarist Russia with effective, vivid imagery.
The story revolves around a young girl coming into womanhood at a time when belief in the old gods is in conflict with Christianity as practiced by a zealous priest newly transferred to the girl’s remote village from his previous post in Moscow. The novel begins with the stark, wintry prose of a fable by Leo Tolstoy — very Russian in pace, style, and tone. About a third of the way through the book, elements of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales begin to infiltrate the narrative. By the final third of the book, the story has morphed into a supernatural plot worthy of Stephen King.
The story begins slowly, but the patient reader will be rewarded for staying the course. The pace picks up gradually and steadily throughout the novel. I dropped one star for the slow initial pacing, which made it difficult for me to get interested in the plot and characters. In general, this is a laudable debut and gives every indication that future works by Katherine Arden will be worth a look.
There is no foul language or explicit sex; this book would be suitable for young adults as well as adults.