STAFF PICK: The Bear and the Nightingale by Jennifer Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Narrator: 
Kathleen Gati

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses…

Such is the setting for Katherine Arden‘s debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale. A lush retelling of Medieval Russian folklore and the first installment in the Winternight Trilogy, this 13-hour-long audiobook will quickly have you rooting for its feisty heroine Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna. A country lord’s daughter with the gift of Sight, Vasya can see the household spirits and magical creatures that are invisible to the rest of her community. Tradition dictates honoring these spirits, but when a priest comes to town, he demands that the people forsake their old faith for the new. Now, the natural balance that harbors prosperity is in jeopardy, and Vasya must strike out on her own to reckon with some very dark forces.

Narrator Kathleen Gati‘s rich Russian accent transported me to the cold, snowy forests and quaint village life of Vasya and her family, making this the perfect book to listen to in the dead of winter. While the story starts out slowly with lots of background and exposition, patience through these sections pays off: my commitment to Vasya and my depth of understanding as the story started to quicken was due to its slow beginnings.

Central to the tale is Vasya’s frustration with being born a woman, and the limited options available in Russia c. 900 CE; she can get married, or become a nun. Her journey towards independence, empowerment and agency are the most exciting parts of this book, even better than the magic and adventure of the story’s fantasy elements. This passionate passage highlights that focus:

“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant … or I must hide myself behind walls. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing.”

I loved Vasya’s awakening as a woman with power, both in the sense of her realizing her Sight and what a curse and blessing it is to her, and in the sense of her coming into her own as a person with ambitions and the desire for self-determination. Arden’s descriptive writing lovingly takes listeners along Vasya growth from girl to woman, and perfectly sets up what’s to come in the sequel.

If you’re looking for a slow-burning fantasy to pass the time during these last days of winter, The Bear and the Nightingale is a great listen. Read more and sample the audio.

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Top 5 Winter Activities to Listen to Audiobooks

Winter is here in full force and doesn’t want us to forget. Need the best way to fend off the winter blues? Embrace the outdoors with winter activities! Below are our favorite winter activities that help us tolerate the cold (and still let us fit our audiobooks in).

 

Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is one of the oldest winter sports. It originated in Northern Europe as a method to travel long distances across snow covered ground. Now, the sport has gained popularity across the world and is a staple at the Winter Olympic Games. The individual nature of the sport makes it a perfect pairing for an audiobook!

 

 

Snow Shoeing

Snow shoeing is becoming an increasingly popular sport because it is suitable for all skill levels. Whether you are walking leisurely or racing through the woods, snow shoeing makes for an excellent opportunity to listen to a book. Next time you get a fresh dusting of powder, strap on your snow shoes and plug in your headphones!

 

 

Hot Tubbing

Not feeling quite as adventurous? That’s okay, we’ve still got you covered. Relax by soaking in an outdoor hot tub. The contrast between the frigid air and the stifling hot water is bound to have you leaping back into your house.  But before you do, take some time to unwind with an audiobook in the tub!

 

 

 

Ice Fishing

How do you ice fish? Do you set up an ice shanty or do you brave the cold and sit outdoors? Whatever your method, bring an audiobook to pass the time between catches!

 

 

 

 

Skating

Skating is possibly the most popular winter activity of all time. It’s practiced recreationally by figure skaters and hockey players alike. Not only can you workout your body, but you can also exercise your brain. Next time you lace up, don’t forget to set up your next listen!

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