As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings based on my reaction to Uprooted last year, let this be a testament. In this version of the classic Russian tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, Katherine Arden reimagines Vasya as the youngest child of a wealthy trader and his late wife, who herself was the daughter of the late ruler.
Vasya is indeed beautiful, but with a wild streak. As her elder sister begins preparing to marry, Vasya’s father Pyotr realizes that there will be no women to run Vasya’s life and makes the decision to remarry himself. At his brother-in-law’s insistence, he marries a woman whose faith dictates her life, and who is nearly as young as his sons.
About this time a young priest is rising to prominence in Moscow, threatening the power of the grand duke and the tentative peace across Russia. The grand duke decrees that the priest will travel with Pyotr when he returns to the north and to serve as the regional priest.
Vasya’s new stepmother and the new priest begin implementing Christian values in place of the old traditions, threatening the ancient spirits that protect Vasya’s homeland. As the townsfolks’ faith in the old ways waivers so do the life forces of their protectors. Vasya can see and communicate with the mysterious creatures, and soon finds herself the protector of the protectors. But a greater evil lurks in the forest, and it is only a matter of time – as the old ones weaken – until it wakes and comes for it’s due.
Much like Uprooted did last year, The Bear and the Nightingale transported me to another realm, another time. The twists and turns! The intricacy of the plot! The landscape itself was so beautifully depicted that it took my breath away. Arden has succeeded in creating a future classic with a permanent place on my shelf. And it’s a series! The second book, The Girl in the Tower, was released last year and the final book in the trilogy has been announced for release sometime early next year. I cannot wait to dive back into Vasya’s world: magical, dangerous, and filled with religion and court intrigue.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars.
Other books in this series:
Book #2 – The Girl in the Tower
Book #3 – The Winter of the Witch
The Good Novel has been open just over a year in Paris when three of its secret selection committee members are attacked. Now it is up to Ivan, Franchesca, and officer Heffner to unravel the mystery of who is behind the obvious sabotage attempts before someone ends up dead or the store is forced to close. Told from the view of a mysterious narrator who is determined to write the history of the shop and its founders, A Novel Bookstore will carry its readers away just as the stories available at The Good Novel do its customers.
Part mystery, part romance, all literary, A Novel Bookstore astounded me at every turn. Much of the mystery is left in the dark as the narrator can only share what he/she knows, but with each character introduced the intrigue grows and the reader becomes more involved in the story. At 416 pages, this novel is fairly hefty but definitely worth the read. The translation is impeccable. Only one word was mistranslated, and I think it more likely that it was translated correctly and misspelled/autocorrected to the wrong word. While it is, on occasion, hard to understand whether Ivan or Francesa is speaking during their tête-à-têtes due to quotation mark use, the difficulty is only mildly annoying as it typically doesn’t matter for you to know exactly which of them is speaking.
I enjoyed every page immensely, from the bits about book selling to the selection committee, to the backgrounds of the committee people and Ivan and Francesca’s lives. Whether everything was interesting to me because of my love for all things literary as well as historical, or the way the narrator weaves the history of the store, I was mesmerized by every detail. Most of all, from about a third or halfway through the story, I became obsessed with the idea of the narrator. To write, as an author, from a character’s point of view as if they are the author, fascinated me, and then the fact that we do not find out until the final pages who this mysterious narrator is was just too much. I couldn’t put the book down all week, reading a paragraph here and there anytime I had a moment to myself. It is easy to digest, while at the same time it leaves you wanting so much more. The Jane Austen quote, “If a book is well written I always find it too short.” definitely applies in this case.
I do not know if there will be a sequel to Cossé’s work, especially given the way things ended, but if there ever is another work like it or involving The Good Novel and its colorful cast of characters, I will be there on release day to buy it.