I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion of the book.
The Bear and the Nightingale is the story of Vasila, a girl who lives in Russia and whose mother died after giving birth to her. While Vasila seems to grow up in a normal household, with her siblings and father, she sees things that other people do not see. As she grows up, her connection to spirits becomes stronger and once her father brings home a new wife, one who hates all kinds of spirits, Vasila is the one who will have to save her family.
This book has gorgeous descriptions - I don't know a lot about historical Russia, but I absolutely adored the way Katherine Arden made that world come alive for me. There was enough description that it was easy for me to image the world, yet not that much that the story was hindered by it.
These descriptions do not only relate to the setting, but also to the characters. Vasila is a complicated narrator, who, due to her young age, is not always trustworthy. As a reader, it was a joy to figure out exactly what she was feeling and what parts of her story were her imagination and which parts were real. All the minor characters, and due to the size of Vasila's family there were many, were also well written. I especially loved her sister Olya, who is completely different from Vasila, yet is incredibly nurturing towards her little sister.
The only thing I didn't enjoy about this story was the pacing. While the descriptions worked well with the story, there were too many events that weren't relevant enough to the plot. The first half of the book progresses incredibly slow and then the major event, which is alluded to throughout the novel, is solved in a single chapter. I wish the action was more spread out through the story and that there was a bigger climax towards the end of the novel. Right now, much of the beginning seemed unnecessary and at the end, I was craving to know so much more about the events and characters.
Even then, this novel was a good read. While the pacing is off, the characters are enchanting and it was a pleasure to get to know them and their journey. This story is perfect for readers who enjoy magic realism and history fiction, in that it combines both with ease.