[The Bear and the Nightingale] Katherine Arden

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I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden has crafted a beautiful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. It’s the story of Vasilisa–called Vasya by those who love her–and her family’s trials and triumphs in a world that doesn’t always believe in the mystical. In the wilds of Russia, far from the civilized world of Moscow, Vasilisa and her siblings grow up believing in Morozko–the not-always-nice Frost–and other household and wilderness beings such as the domovoi and the rusalka. It chronicles the life of Vasilisa as she grows and discovers how to reconcile her old beliefs with new ones that make their way to her household.

The Bear and the Nightingale opens with a Russian folktale, that of Morozko and the maiden. It sets up the story quite well, as there are parallels to this folktale throughout The Bear and the Nightingale. While I would say that is the main folktale that is threaded throughout the book, Arden has included more of the mythology and stories of the region to create a rich cultural setting in addition to a rich physical setting. And it wasn’t mentioned just to have “culture.” The beliefs of the North–which is, according to those who live in the cities, obsolete and incorrect–are consistently in the narrative. As Vasilisa grows, Arden introduces more of the mythology as she learns about it through exploring her world. It was a natural way of storytelling and of growing the world contained in the book.

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Morozko and the Maiden

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[Wintersong] S. Jae-Jones

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Wintersong is the story of what happens when you make wishes and promises to a mysterious stranger and they come to collect. Liesl is nineteen and dreams of composing, but she’s put her desires on hold in order to help out at her family inn, train her brother for a position as a violinist, and indulge her younger sister in her vanities. Liesl has to content herself with snatched moments and hidden scraps of her compositions as she acts as the strong, older sister. But when her younger sister is stolen by the Goblin King, Liesl has to remember the songs and stories of her childhood in order to save her from a Goblin King who deals in riddles and trades. Suddenly, Liesl finds herself in a precarious position deep underground in the world of the Goblin King. It is there that she discovers more about herself than she ever allowed herself to learn. As she passes the threshold from innkeeper girl to adult composer, Liesl has to make a choice about just how much she is willing to sacrifice.

Wintersong had an extremely strong start. Jae-Jones introduced us to her world slowly using beautiful language reminiscent of music. The story promised touches of the fantastic that is often found in fairy tales. I truly enjoyed reading how Jae-Jones used words to construct a familiar yet fairy tale-esque world. The inclusion of Christina Rossetti’s poetry at the beginning of each part of the book also set the stage for what was to happen perfectly without giving too much away. Threaded throughout the story was the language of classical music. Sadly I didn’t understand this as well as I understood the poetry due to the fact that I never studied music in the way that Jae-Jones seems to have. I thought it was a really unique way of writing. It wasn’t something that I had seen before. I was glad that Jae-Jones used it to enhance her writing rather than overwhelm her story with it.

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[The Lunar Chronicles] A series review with a focus on [Winter] by Marissa Meyer

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Although Winter came out a little under a year ago, it’s only recently that I bit the ebook bullet (so expensive!) and started the final book of The Lunar Chronicles. I had some down time, so I decided to reread the first three books. The last time I read them I did so around the time of Cress‘ publication. Long before, I think, Winter had been announced. This will be a review for the series as a whole, but I will focus on Winter. There will be spoilers for CinderScarlet, and Cress.

So briefly then, the reviews for the first three books:

11235712Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, a conglomeration of countries in Asia and its cultures after a fourth World War. She uses her talents to provide for her step-family, who are just as needy and rude as the Cruel Stepmother and Stepsisters in the original tale, with the exception of the youngest daughter. Cinder works diligently and keeps her head down, dreaming one day of escaping the city and the plague that threatens at any moment. When Prince Kai comes to her in the hope that the best mechanic in the city can fix his royal android, Cinder is pulled into a world that she didn’t ever think she’d be a part of.

I love familiar stories with a twist. For me, making Cinder a cyborg was a brilliant decision to make Cinder stand out as a different retelling of Cinderella. Not only is she dirty (from grease this time, not ashes), she’s not even recognized as human by her society! I had a very clear picture of what she wanted for herself and enjoyed her as a character very much. Her progression throughout the novel was steady and well-done.

I really enjoyed that the setting of Cinder. I do wish, however, that it had gone into more detail about what sorts of cultures made up the Eastern Commonwealth. I could have done with less vagueness. Chinese and Japanese motifs are mentioned at times in the decoration of robes and the palace, but it came dangerously close to not being enough. I think it would have made the reader more interested to see just what Cinder would lose if she lost.

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