Okay, I’m going to be upfront here that this was a book club pick (my book club pick, actually), and we broke a cardinal rule: never read the first in a series. It’s incredibly difficult to judge character arcs and abandoned plot lines, because you know that the story is only just beginning. That also makes it difficult to write a fair review, but I will try.
Do you love whimsical stories rooted in complicated family dynamics? Apparently I do, because I adored reading this book. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first installment in The Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden. It is a lovely fairytale mostly set in the medieval white winters of northern Russia, rife with monsters, helpful creatures, and even a wicked stepmother. Arden creates a charming world of frost and magic that could easily enchant an unsuspecting reader, like myself, into believing it is a reinvention of the classic genre. It is not.
**Vague Spoilers Ahead** And here is where the challenge of reviewing the first entry of a series presents itself. There are several seemingly throwaway plot threads that remain unresolved. There are several plot threads that seem entirely relevant to this particular story that also remain unresolved. The book is around 336 pages, and I was LIVING for the first 300. But the ending was so unsatisfying, that it left me wondering if Arden had to do a quick rewrite for the publishers in order to make this into a trilogy. And, without giving away too much, the actual resolution was underwhelming. How the major conflict is resolved, and who incites the resolution, was incredibly disappointing. However, without having read the next two books in the series, I really think it’s unfair of me to judge the book on these factors alone. **End Spoilers**
This was a pleasant, enjoyable read, for the most part. It was fast paced, fantastical, a little creepy, and I ended the book ready for the next chapter. If I was judging this as a stand alone novel, I would say it didn’t live up to its potential. However, this is only the beginning for Vasya, and I’m invested enough to see where she goes next. 3 Stars
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