Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

     In a small Russian village, the people live in peace with the nature spirits that help them survive.  However, warring factions for the crown in Moscow arrange a political 2nd marriage for Pyotr to wed Anna.  Anna is able to see the nature spirits but thinks they are demons driving her crazy.  She finds refuge in the church under the watch of the priest, Konstantin.  When he learns she sees things that he cannot see, he believes she is possessed and that he must rid everyone of their blasphemous beliefs in the demons.  Pyotr's daughter, Vasalisa, can also see the spirits, but knows they are anything but demons.  They are the protectors of her people.  She will stop at nothing to save her people from Konstantin's hubris and the villagers' fears that allow the true evil to overtake the forest and kill her people.
     I was so excited for this book because it was marketed as a Russian Fairy Tale.  It is not.  I liked the story, but would have liked it more if I wasn't waiting for a fairy tale.  It is difficult to read until you get to the middle.  The pacing is slow to start, and many characters are introduced that are merely pawns to explain how the main characters came to be in the village.  The Russian names are difficult, which makes it harder to keep track of the numerous characters, especially when they are often called by different nicknames that you didn't know at first.  However, once the evil starts taking over the village, the story picks up and moves at a fast pace.  When the author focuses on the main characters, they begin to be more than pawns and come to life, especially Vasilisa and her brother Alyosha.
     This is a good book if you are a good reader and willing to slog through the first half for the jewel in the second half.  You can tell this is her debut novel.  Had she placed the characters in the story and began to tell it, rather than spend over a hundred pages explaining how everyone came to be there, it would have been an amazing story, rather than just good.  Sadly, I cannot recommend this book to many of my friends because of these difficulties.  However, if you are a good reader, and like Vasya, are willing to fight for the good, you will enjoy this book.    

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