Vasilisa Petrovna, or so the stories say, is the granddaughter of a witch, and her blood runs thick with magic. The lastborn of her father’s first wife, Vasya is raised by her nurse, Dunya, and her older sister, Olga on stories of the spirits that haunt the forests, the lakes and the trees, and guard the hearth fires and her beloved horses. As she grows older, small Vasya’s escapades and long absences in the forest are often overlooked with fond exasperation by her older sister and brothers, father Pyotr, and nurse Dunya. After all, she is a creature of the forest, as much as the rusalka and the leshy.
Until the early winter night Vasya finds herself inexplicably and unexplainably lost, and cold, and in a unfamiliar clearing with an ancient oak she has never seen before. At the foot of the oak lies an one-eyed man, scarred and sleeping and strange. But when Vasya tries to wake the sleeper, a man on a white mare, both young and old, and with ice-blue eyes that burn with a cold fire, stops her from waking the man and sends her on her way. Out from beneath the shadow of the oak, a frightened Vasya finds that night has fallen and her brothers and father, along with the men of the village, are hunting for her, frantic with worry. For the first time, she is not sorry to be kept indoors.
Still, as Vasya grows, despite all her father and new stepmother do to try to make her into a proper young maiden, she remains wild and untamed. She spends her days roaming the forest, keeping watch over the spirits of trees and lakes and horses and fires, protecting them from her stepmother’s growing campaign against the old ways, and growing into her destiny. For Vasilisa Petrovna has a great task lying before her, one she will have to fight to be allowed to take on. That long ago night beneath the ancient oak was no dream, and the sleeper is truly waking.
This novel was absolute magic. I loved every beautifully written word of it. Vasya’s home on the edge of the wild, cold forests of northern Russia is brought to life in stunning detail on the page – you can feel the harsh beauty of midwinter, the lush bounty of the forest in summer, Vasya’s joy with her horses, the warm love of family that holds Vasya, her sister, brothers, and father together, and the creeping chill of cold terror as the sleeper begins to wake. To tell much more will ruin the absolute delight you’ll have at letting Vasya’s story unfold for you, but if you love historical fiction, fantasy, or just a gorgeously written story, make sure you curl up with The Bear and the Nightingale under a very thick pile of blankets this winter!