Wednesday 11 April 2018

The Bear and the Nightingale

Finished April 8
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This book, the first in a trilogy, is set in northern Russia in the fourteenth century. Pyotr Vladimirovich is the boyar, lord, of the area, and he married a mysterious woman whose mother supposedly showed up in Moscow under strange circumstances, and married Ivan I of Moscow. Her name was Marina Ivanovna, and while she did not have her mother's powers, she was still a woman with a knowledge of magic. Marina and Pyotr have several children, including a girl, Olga, but as the book begins, Marina is pregnant with another girl, a girl who will have certain powers in the old magic, who she names Vasilisa, Vasya for short. Marina died following the birth, and her old nurse Dunya raised her and the other children, Sasha, Kolya, Olga and Alyosha. Dunya know the old tales, and told them often around the kitchen stove in the evenings.
Vasya grew to be a wild child, often with animals or in the nearby forest, gathering herbs. She sees and talks with the local spirits, both those of the house and stables, and those of nature. Vasya also finds that she has learnt the language of some animals, such as the horses. As the children grow, Pyotr decides to make a trip to Moscow, to sell, trade, take gifts to the rules, and find a husband for Olga. He takes along his two oldest sons, Sasha and Kolya.
They see many things and experience some unusual happenings. Sasha discovers a future for himself, and the Grand Prince has Pyotr take a woman for his new wife, along with choosing a husband for Olga. The new wife, Anna Ivanovna wished a different life for herself, and has a strong Christian faith. Shortly after, there is another addition to the household, the new priest, Father Konstantin Nikonovich, a painter of icons. He has been sent by the Metropolitan, the head of the church, and has also dreamed of a different life.
As the village grows more Christianized, the old magic is seen as evil by many, and the spirits grow weaker. And this change also has implications, both for the village and its people, and for Pyotr's family.
A fascinating tale with a fascinating setting. I loved the folktales woven into the story.

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