Katherine Arden “The Bear & the Nightingale” (Del Rey, 2017)
There is something terribly appropriate about reading a book seeped in Russian folklore this winter.
“The Bear and the Nightingale” is a coming of age story about a young woman living in Russia’s far north several hundred years ago. It is quite self-consciously a play on fairy tales. As I am not familiar with the folktales of the region, I really don’t know how much is actual folklore, and how much is Arden.
This may be the best debut that I’ve read in years. All of the comparisons I would make – Novik’s “Uprooted”, Gaiman, Valente – are all well-established writers. While there are some structural issues (characters who don’t seem to serve much purpose, etc), Arden’s use of story and the language are such that these issues are easily swept aside.
I really can’t recommend this highly enough for cold snowy nights. I’m looking forward to reading what she writes next.