The Bear and the Nightingale (2017, Sample) by Katherine Arden

566 wc

Originally posted on my writing blog which was active from 2010 to 2018.

Published by Del Rey.

A magical debut novel for listeners of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

I have this idea that I will try to read a sample of a Kindle book every day or at least a few times a week for a while. I don’t read enough, but I can’t really bring myself to buy Kindle books if I’m not sure that I’m going to like it and read the whole thing from start to finish. I feel pretty guilty if I buy a book but then don’t like the first chapter, and I feel pretty resentful when I try to read a whole book that I don’t like. So I’ll just take advantage of these free Kindle samples while they’re available.

I picked this sample because it appeared on a list of Amazon’s best fantasy of 2017. After I got the sample, I stumbled on a list of the 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time from Unbound Worlds (a subject for another post), which also listed the Bear and the Nightingale. It seemed like synchronicity.

The sample contains two short chapters.

I was struck immediately by the tone of the writing. It is written in the style of a fairy tale. It demands to be breathlessly read out loud by a master storyteller with perhaps a slight British accent to a drowsy child at bed time. That alone sets it apart from anything else I’ve read recently. It also suggests that, should I go on to continue, it would probably be more enjoyable for me to listen to it as an audiobook. (The audiobook is read by Kathleen Gati, who I don’t know offhand.)

I enjoyed the two chapters I read. It begins tightly focused on one house and its occupants in the cold Russian wilderness, so it was easy to be drawn into the story. The first chapter contained an interesting meta in that one of the characters actually did tell a story to some children, in the style of a fairy tale. So it was a fairy tale wrapped inside another fairy tale. The story meant nothing to me, and I can only presume it will serve as foreshadowing.

The real story begins in the second chapter, when an older woman declares to her husband that she is pregnant with her fifth child. Here we learn that this woman’s mother was “special” and she predicts her fifth child will have the same “gifts.” We aren’t told exactly what that means but we are led to believe there is magic is at work (the chapter’s title is, “The witch-woman’s granddaughter”). The husband is nervous about it, but supportive. The nurse is against it, but promises to help and raise the child should the mother die in childbirth, which we are told is a very strong possibility.

A reference to Ivan I sets the story around the 13th or 14th century.

Based on editorial descriptions of the book, the second chapter is likely also a prologue to the real real story. In any case, I was interested enough in the first two chapters that I would continue to the third chapter. That’s more than I can say for a lot of books.

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