The Bear and the Nightingale – Book Review

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.


As I think I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for anything Russian based. I love the history of this vast country, and it’s true that within history comes different cultures and tales. And the mythos around Russian folklore is just so far removed from the fairytales that I grew up with as an English girl, I feel constantly drawn to them.

So when I read the back of The Bear and the Nightingale in my local Waterstones, I knew it would be right up my street.

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Set in a village during the infancy of feudal Russia (nearly two hundred years before Ivan the Terrible) The Bear and the Nightingale has factual and fictional base around the culture of this remote part of the world – a time in which religion and the command of the land holds sway over the everyday Russian’s lives, and sorcery and folklore as real as breathing.

But for a young woman Vasya; the last daughter and child of the kindly but gruff boyar Pyotr Vladimirovich and his dead wife Marina, these aren’t just stories. As Vasya can see the house spirits that guard her home and surrounding areas, and she can sense when the growing forces of dark magic are breaking free from the wild forests of Russia’s landscapes.

There are a few things I loved about this book. One being that in the last few years, we’ve had a good spate of Russian inspired fairytales (see my review for Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon review) and I think this novel fits in very well with exploring this wonderful culture. The writing was very lyrical and the working in of the Russian words and terminology made the story come alive in a very real way.

I enjoyed some of the character depth – especially with Father Konstantin’s interest in Vasya turning into something far more than religious interest in the young woman, and his shame about these developing feelings (felt very Judge Frollo from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame here), along with Vasya’s transformation from a wild young girl into a young woman.

However, this book does have its negative points. I felt the story lost itself halfway through, and the jumble of different spirits and how Vasya affected the balance of the world made for quite a mess when reading it. Towards the end, when the climax and tone of the book should be at its most urgent and pronounced, there wasn’t any tension. It played it safe, and for a book that really could have been fairly violent and almost squeamish, it felt almost boring to read. The book seems to meander quite a lot, and never really hits home about the point it’s trying to make.

Unfortunately, the character of Morozoko (A Russian-esque Jack Frost character) gets lost with his characterisation. I felt like when he was explaining himself and his conflict with his twin (these two were supposed to be really central and important characters) his story never really made sense and didn’t make him memorable.

I wanted more of him and this sort of folklore and less of the house and stable spirits we were subjected too.

However, despite all this, I am curious about the sequel – The Girl in the Tower – despite all my negative thoughts, so I probably will pick it up to see whether it improves. Expect a review on this too.

Overall, a good premise and lyrical book, but one that falls short on delivering.

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Feature image credit – TheGryphon.co.uk

Top 5 Books – The Romanovs

I’ve decided to start having a series of blogposts about my Top 5 picks. Whether this be a fashion, beauty, film, television series or books, I’ll pick out my Top 5 choices, offer a small review, and the chance to buy these picks as gifts or for yourself.

But for my first one, I thought I’d do something on a topic that I know extensively. An ongoing obsession/fascination of mine is Imperial Russia, and mainly focusing on the rule of the last Tsar and his family. I’ll be updating a complete 2016 blogpost on all the reference books I have on them soon, but here is just a little snippet of what books I personally consider my favourites.

1: Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

This is my favourite book of the entire collection. I’ve had it for many years, and the r517zvo1s7ml-_sy344_bo1204203200_eason I love it so is because not only does it focus on the last Tsar, but it is also a really good introductory piece for people who want to start reading around his family and the lead-up to the Revolution. Some of the reference books you can buy can be very in depth and overwhelming, and for seasoned Russian historians like myself, that isn’t a problem. But for people who are interested in the whole Anastasia mystery, and want to learn a little bit more of the historical side, Massie’s text is good for them. The way Massie writes is in a very readable and clear style, and it is obvious how well researched this book was. The amount of detail he goes into is very good, and he writes contextually too. So you get the fullest picture of Russia at the time. What also makes this book interesting is the emotional way he deals with the tsarevich’s illness, which Massie himself had to deal with fir
st-hand when his own son was diagnosed with haemophilia. This very personal touch made the book even more readable and heartfelt. This text is definitely a recommended read, as it opens up the Romanovs to an audience who may just be discovering them.

To buy the book – Waterstones/Amazon

2: A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra – Their Own Story’ by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko

This is an unique book in the fact that it tells the story of Nicholas and Alexandra but through their own letters, diary entries and letter they exchanged with family members. This truly brings to light the love the pair sh51c8gzazbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_owed for each other, and how they perceived the world around them and the changes that were happening in the time they lived in.
In my mind, there’s was the greatest love story ever. And just by reading the letters they wrote to each other during long months of separation, you’ll see what I mean. I find it fascinating that if you compare how they felt when they first started courting, to years after when they were writing during WWI and had been married for years with five children, the love never seems to change. It just gets stronger, with the same amount of passion and yearning for each other. It’s truly moving.
Also, what I find interesting is how they address the political climate in which they lived. The Russian Revolution has been written and studied about for decades, but to hear how the real people of the time were dealing with it adds to a very interesting and enlightening read.
This is a perfect book to take with you on travels, as you can pick and choose sections that you want to read, and immerse yourself in the romance.

To buy the book – Amazon

3: Ekaterinburg – The Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport and The Murder of the Romanovs by Andrew Cook.

I honestly couldn’t choose between these two books. The deaths of the Romanovs have been sensationalised and covered by the media so much that it’s good to find two books who just seem to deal with the facts. These two books cover the deaths, naturally, but also what happened after in some detail, especially with the controversial topic on whether somebody survived.51spxj7gbil-_sx325_bo1204203200_main_9781445600703_13

What I love about the Rappaport book is that it also dedicates chapters to Nicholas, Alexandra, the girls and Alexei – which I love reading as it just gives overviews on them. The chapter about the girls is probably my favourite as it dedicates large passages just to the girls mannerisms and personalities, which I find fascinating as since Anastasia has become the “famous” one out of the sisters, the rest of them seem to have been forgotten in a sense. So learning that these girls also had dreams and hope like the rest of the family is a strong reminder that they too suffered. The Rappaport book also gives some details about the situation after the death, with mentions of Anna Anderson and concluding it beautifully with the chapter ‘The Scent of Lillies’.
The Cook book draws from more source-related material and deals with the death but also the discovery of the bodies and the identification of the bodies. Definitely a more scholarly book than the Rappaport, but it is no less as well done as it does go into the unseen police footage and documents concerning what happened on that day. Despite being harder to read and definitely not for the light-of-heart, I would recommend this book as it does draw on a different approach in writing about the Romanovs.
Both these books together give any reader enough information concerning what happened in detail.

To buy Ekaterinburg – Amazon/Waterstones

To buy Murder of the Romanovs – Amazon/Waterstones

4: The Russian Court at Sea: The Last Day of a Great Dynasty by Frances Welch

This is a relatively new and interesting book, mainly because it doesn’t focus on the last 51aglyjunplTsar in a sense but what happened to his extended family after Nicholas and Alexandra’s deaths.
It tells the story of when 17 of the Russian royal family went into exile on the HMS Marlborough in April 1919, carrying some of the most prominent members of the family – including Nicholas II mother, his sister and the Crown Prince Felix Yussapov, once coming from the richest family in Russia and cited as Rasputin’s murder.
It details the family’s flee from Russia, with remnants of their old grand life – priceless pieces of art and jewelry – wrapped up and stored in blankets and the frankly bizarre experience it was for all of them and those aboard the Marlborough.
This is a interesting book, because it does follow where the Romanov lines stretch out all over Europe and America and shows the rapid decline from riches-to-rags that some of them faced, and it doesn’t focus on Nicholas at all. It focuses on how their deaths affect the family and how they, in effect, continued the Romanov line away from Russia and their people.
This is a breath-of-fresh-air novel for giving a different view on what happened to the Romanovs, and I highly recommend it.

To buy this book – Waterstones/Amazon

5: The Romanovs: Love, Power and Tragedy by A.N. Bokhanov

The jewel of my collection. This book is a real gem, and an incredibly hard-to-get book for a good deal, but believe me, it’s so worth the money you spend.
Full to the brink of unseen photos of the family, and fascinating insight to the family. The written information isn’t necessarily new in that sense that you could read it anywhere else, but5164p0vbvwl-_sy344_bo1204203200_ it is the photographs you pay for. It also features diary extracts, scans of unseen letters and everything you need for a visual treat. It’s emotional in some places, just because you do see how the family functioned, not as a royal family but like a normal one and it does beat all over rivals for a photographic book about the Romanovs.
So beautifully illustrated, this is not to be missed! It is also a surprisingly large and heavy book, but well worth the money. I can’t explain to you how much any Romanov fans should get this book.I don’t think I can explain how much I love this book and cherish it in my collection.

To buy this book – Amazon.

So, here are my Top 5 Romanov books. I’ve been collecting books on The Romanovs for years, and there are both positives and negatives for all the books I own. But, I really do recommend these books, as they give you a good insight and starter information for the Russian royal family. So, if you have any questions, please let me know!