In a small medieval village on the edge of a Russian forest, the family of Pyotr Vladimirovich waits out the brutal winter. The children crowd around the massive oven, listening to their old nurse tell wonderful stories of Morozko, the Russian Jack Frost. (Little do they know that Morozko is real.) Shortly afterward, their mother dies in childbirth, leaving behind an infant girl, Vasya. Vasya has inherited gifts from her mother and grandmother: she can see the magical creatures that live in and around her house, protecting her family and the village from the evils lurking in the forest. All is well in the household until Pyotr Vladimirovich brings home a new wife from Moscow, along with a new village priest. Both are determined to stamp out the evil creatures from their midst, and their fear only serves to rile up the villagers and endanger the town. Only Vasya, with her magical powers, can save them – but will she be able to?
The Bear and the Nightingale is a wondrous, magical tale, filled with creatures both good and evil. Arden bases her story on old Russian fairy tales and brings them to life with a lyrical, resonant voice. As with all good fairy tales, this book has a larger message, reminding us that suspicion and fear have always been humankind’s worst enemies, and that religion, taught improperly, can sow hatred. Like many literary heroes before her, Vasya is the outcast who possesses the power to save others, and it is only by accepting her that they can be saved. With its appealing main character, atmospheric setting, and beautiful language, this is a book that enchants and delights, a fairy tale with modern relevance. I loved it.