February 26, 2018 by TinyNavajo
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
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Near the Rus’ border, winter lasts most of the year and snow drifts higher the eves of the houses. This doesn’t bother Vasilisa, the youngest daughter of the landed lord of their small village, for during the winter, their nurse recites fairy tales. Vasya’s favorite story to hear is the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Those Russians that still honor the old ways honor the small spirits that protect their homes and farms.
As the years go on, and Vasya’s siblings are married or go to a convent, Vasya’s father realizes that he may have been a bit too indulgent in allowing his youngest daughter wander the forest near his home and in doing what she wants, rather than taking her in hand and shaping her to be a proper daughter. He plans to rectify this the next time he goes to Moscow by finding himself a new wife.
Vasya’s new stepmother is a highly devout Christian woman who believes she is followed by “demons,” little creatures that know she sees them and her wish to be put into a convent where she’ll be protected from the “demons” that show up in the seemingly random places. When her wish is denied and she is married to a small landed lord who lives near the wilderness, she sees that there are more “demons” in her new home than there ever was in Moscow. Seeing that the “demons” are attracted to the small offerings left out, Vasya’s stepmother forbids everyone from leaving out the offerings, making the village total Christianity.
As the village’s crops dye, evil creatures from legend start to show up, and the forest starts to creep ever closer, Vasya grows more frightened, knowing somewhere that more hinges on the small rituals and offerings to the small household spirits. As she tries to carry out the rituals still under the ever watchful eye of her stepmother, Vasya calls on the gifts she was given from her mother, dangerous gifts that may call more danger upon her family. But if she wants her family and her home to survive a threat come to life from her nurse’s stories, then Vasya must use her gifts.
This is a new retelling and I absolutely love it! I have rarely read fairy tales that wander outside of Europe, and when I do they are usually East Asian. This, I think, is my first Russian retelling and the atmosphere is so much different but different in a good way. It brought to my attention that there are more fairy tales out in the world and I need to discover them! Yes, I objectively knew that there are more fairy tales out in the world, but this is my first retelling of other fairy tales, other than Europe and East Asia. And I LOVED IT! I most definitely need to read the next book, which I believe is called The Girl in the Tower.
What fairy tale retellings have you guys read? What countries were they from? Comment below and let me know!