The Bear and the Nightingale By Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Publisher: Del Rey Books

First Published: 12th January 2017

Audiobook Narrator: Katherine Arden

Blurb:

“‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’ 

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…” (From Goodreads, 15th February 2019)

Review:

This is the first novel in the Winternight Trilogy By Katherine Arden. I listened to this novel as an audiobook and enjoyed the narrators take of this book. However, not having read many books set in Russia I struggled with following the characters due to the unfamiliar names. I think that possibly reading this book physically would have made this initial issue less problematic.

The Bear and the Nightingale is an enchanting tale about a strong-willed young girl name Vasilisa who soaks up stories her old nurse-maid tells her and her siblings next to the firelight during the long winter in Russia. These fairytales tell of demons who live in the forest are both enchanting and chilling. However, when Vasilisa’s father brings home a new wife who is a devout follower of the church the talk of demons and house spirits is no longer allowed. This is a bone of contention between Vasilisa and her step-mother. The family are no longer allowed to pay tribute to the house spirits, and this scares Vasilisa as she alone can see the house spirits. Soon crops begin to fail, the fire needs more fuel and, more worryingly, evil in the forest begins to creep towards the house. Soon the stories Vasilisa was once told no longer seem to be stories and she must use her gifts to try and keep her family safe regardless of the consequences.

This is a beautiful story of one girl’s struggle with being different and dealing with forces that others cannot see. This is a novel of folklore and is magical and dark. Books set in Russia are very new to me and so I do not know if the tales in this story are based on Russian folklore, but it feels like it is. I am excited to read the next novel in the trilogy as I feel it will up the ante even more and will bring more magical tales that are deliciously dark and enthralling.

The writing style was beautiful with the right balance of description and action once we got to the main part of the novel. The novel certainly picks up the pace throughout, leading to a dramatic conclusion.

My only drawback is that it took me a while to get into this book, as there were so many characters introduced and I struggled to keep track of their names and character relationships. I felt that maybe there was a bit too much of an information dump at the beginning but this may be important to the following novels, but as it stands after reading the first novel I felt this information was too much too soon.

4 out of 5

The Hangmans Daughter By Oliver Potzsch

Title: The Hangman’s Daughter

Author: Oliver Potzsch

Translated: Lee Chadeayne

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

First Published: 1st April 2008

Blurb:

Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play. So begins The Hangman’s Daughter–the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter, Oliver Pötzsch–a descendent of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan. (From Goodreads, 23rd December 2013)

Review:

It is not often that I read historical fiction, but when I do I really do enjoy it. This year, I have read two books set in the 1600’s and I think I will read more fiction books set in this time period. I feel that dipping into historical fiction, now and again, gives me a nice change in scenery, shall we say, compared to my typical reads.

‘The Hangman’s Daughter’ was another book that I came about by chance – whilst trying to remember the name of another book! I am glad I did. ‘The Hangman’s Daughter’ is a novel that is fast paced and perplexing. The death of a young boy is being blamed on witchcraft, however, the hangman, an intelligent man whom is interested in the way the body works, does not believe in witchcraft. Therefore, when the midwife of the village is incarcerated, the hangman begins to look into finding the true murderer, before it is too late.

This is a crime novel, just set in a different time period to most crime fiction that I have read. The story jumps right in, and keeps getting more and more intense right to the end. A simple death blamed on witchcraft quickly becomes complex and perplexing. The hangman joins forces with the doctors son, who is ironically in love with the hangman’s daughter, in an attempt to find out what is really going on in their town. Soon the two men become entangled in a mystery that may take their lives.

This is a gripping, edge of the seat read, and one I would recommend to those who enjoy crime novels but are needing something different, and a crime novel set in the 16oo’s is different to most crime novels out there that I know about!

4 out of 5

Witch Light By Susan Fletcher

Title: Witch Light

Author: Susan Fletcher

Publisher: Fourth Estate

First Published: 1st January 2010

Blurb:

The Massacre of Glencoe happened at 5am on 13th February 1692 when thirty-eight members of the Macdonald clan were killed by soldiers who had enjoyed the clan’s hospitality for the previous ten days. Many more died from exposure in the mountains. Fifty miles to the south Corrag is condemned for her involvement in the Massacre. She is imprisoned, accused of witchcraft and murder, and awaits her death. The era of witch-hunts is coming to an end – but Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist and Jacobite, hears of the Massacre and, keen to publicise it, comes to the tollbooth to question her on the events of that night, and the weeks preceding it. Leslie seeks any information that will condemn the Protestant King William, rumoured to be involved in the massacre, and reinstate the Catholic James. Corrag agrees to talk to him so that the truth may be known about her involvement, and so that she may be less alone, in her final days. As she tells her story, Leslie questions his own beliefs and purpose – and a friendship develops between them that alters both their lives. In Corrag, Susan Fletcher tells us the story of an epic historic event, of the difference a single heart can make – and how deep and lasting relationships that can come from the most unlikely places. (From Goodreads, 16th August 2013)

Review:

As you can gather from the above blurb this is a historical novel based in Scotland. ‘Witch Light’ is a fictional novel based on possible factual occurrences.

Corrag is a free-spirit, but in the 17th century a free-spirit means ‘witch’. Sentenced to death for witchcraft, Corrag is held in the tollbooth until the snow thaws to allow for her burning. During this time Charles Leslie began to question Corrag to find out exactly what went on at Glencoe in an effort to remove King William from the throne, whom apparently ordered the Massacre.

The novel is written from Corrags point of view, but to tell Charles Leslie about the Massacre she first talks about her life. Susan Fletcher writes Corrag’s story with a lyrical prose, which initially can be difficult to follow but soon becomes beautifully descriptive and entrancing. We also hear from Charles Leslie through the letters he writes to his wife, his take on what Corrag has told him, and his desperation to learn about the Glencoe Massacre to aid his cause.

Although I knew little of the Glencoe Massacre I feel I have learnt a substantial amount about this period of time through this novel, and from reading some of the notes at the end of the novel, it appears that Susan Fletcher highly researched the Massacre before writing this book.

‘Witch Light’ is not a novel with lots of action, but is a journey through a woman’s life and why she is now sentenced to death. This is a novel for those who like language, beauty and the wish to understand those whom differ from the norm.

4 out of 5.