The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Every once in a while you come across a book that’s drenched in magic. This isn’t a book that approximates a fairy tale, but rather is one, spun to the reader in beautiful, purposeful, poetic language. It’s a hypnotizing and comfortable book perfect for a wintertime read; nothing about the story, whether plot or characterization or sentence craft, gets in the way. Instead, every word invites you to read on, until you turn the last page and wonder how soon you can pick up the sequel.

I loved the large cast, and I admire the author’s ability to make the overall arc a standalone, yet include all sorts of juicy possibilities for book two. The way Arden’s characters interact with magic, too, is fantastic; I was living for the later scenes when Vasilisa has one foot in reality and the other in an unknowable place beyond our world. Here’s hoping there’s much more of this in books to come.

Something I do want to mention is that this book didn’t feel much like YA to me, but rather like a fantasy book that happened to have a young adult main character. This was especially true in the first half of the book, when point-of-view sections featuring Vasilisa are often few and far between. I found myself wondering if Arden’s publisher decided to market it as YA, because, let’s face it, YA sells; I’m sure most of us in the YA sphere can think of a few books that fall into this category. I don’t know what Arden has in mind for this series in terms of length, but I could see this heading in a Green Rider direction beyond the scope of a trilogy, where we see Vasilisa grow and mature throughout the years into a woman in her own right.

So here’s another fantasy series where I’m going to need to read the second book. Add it to the stack; somehow I have such a difficult time continuing series, even if they were excellent. Yet even if it takes me a while to get to book two, know that this book is fantastic and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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