Bear and the Nightingale (Arden)

The Bear and the Nightingale  (Winternight Trilogy, 1)
Katherine Arden, 2017
Del Ray
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781101885932

A magical debut novel that spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses.

But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales.

Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1987 (?)
Where—Austin, Texas, USA
Education—B.A., Middlebury, Vermont, USA
Currently—lives in Brandon, Vermont

Katherine Arden is a Texas-born author known for her Winternight series of fantasy novels. The first two volumes, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, were both published in 2017 — one in January and the other in December.

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent her junior year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature.

After receiving her B.A. in French and Russian literature, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crepes to serving as a personal tour guide. After a year on the island, she moved to Briancon, France, and spent nine months teaching. She then returned to Maui, stayed for nearly a year, then left again to wander. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) Arden’s debut is an earthy, beautifully written love letter to Russian folklore, with an irresistible heroine.... The stunning prose...forms a fully immersive, unusual, and exciting fairy tale that will enchant readers.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) You don't have to know and love Russian folklore to appreciate Arden's fabulist—and fabulous—debut novel, which tells the story of how Vasilisa Petrovna...saves her corner of medieval Russia's wild north.... Fleet and gorgeous as the firebird. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Utterly bewitching.... [A] lush narrative... [and] an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family.

(Starred review.) [S]umptuous first novel...where history and myth coexist.... Arden has shaped a world that neatly straddles the seen and the unseen, where readers will recogniz[e] the imagination that has transformed old material into something fresh.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Bear and the Nightingale ... then take off on your own:

1. What elements of the classic fairy tale can you identify in The Bear and the Nightingale?

2. Describe Vasya. What kind of a child is she?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: Vasya and her step mother, Anna, have a gift of sight in common. How does each view her particular gift: why does one reject it and the other embrace it?

4. Forbidding the worship of pagan gods by an emergent Christianity occurred throughout Europe and Russia. In Katherine Arden's fabulist story, how does does this prove dangerous?

5. Follow-up to Question 4: Historically, Russians held to the concept of "dual belief," the idea that two the religions, Christianity and paganism, could exist side by side. How is that concept portrayed in Arden's book? What are your thoughts on dual belief?

6. Why might Arden have opened her story with Dunya telling the story of Frost, which proves to be a harbinger of what is to come? How does predictive structure affect the way you read the novel?

7. Did the book's shifting perspectives engage you ... or confuse you?

8. Fables typically end with a moral. What is the underlying lesson that Katherine Arden is reaching for in The Bear and the Nightingale?

9. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first part of a planned trilogy. Any guesses as to the plot of the second installment—or where it might pick up from this first novel? Are you looking forward to reading it?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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