The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

‘It was late winter in Northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.’

Set in a version of medieval Russia, Ms Arden’s novel creates a world where myth is difficult to distinguish from reality, where what is seen is only part of what is believed to exist.

In a village in the far north of Russia, where winter is long and harsh, Vasya is the child her mother insists on having. Vasya sees the house spirits and comes to understand the magic which keep the dark forces at bay and the world in harmony. After her mother’s death, Vasya’s father remarries and her stepmother sees the same spirits but is convinced they are demons. And then, Konstantin, a priest is sent to the household. He is determined to exorcise the demons. Will he succeed? And at what cost? The crops fail, and the wolves move ever closer to the village. The villagers start to view Vasya as a witch, and she is faced with a difficult choice.

This is the first novel in a trilogy, and I’m eager to read the second novel (to be released early in 2018). For the time it took me to read this novel, I was transported to a magical world. A world in which harmony required both sacrifice and sharing. I was pleased to be reading about Morozko, the demon of winter, from the relative safety of the Australian summer.

“Get out,” said Pyotr. “You are nothing; you are only a story. Leave my lands in peace.”

It may only be a story, but for a while it was a world.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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