Super Extra Grande – ???

super_extra_grandeThe Quill to Live is approaching its 2nd birthday, and correct us if we are wrong, but I think we have proven we are pretty good at reviewing books. We have a diverse group of readers in the back slaving away reading books, compiling our thoughts, and synthesizing analysis as to whether or not a book is worth your time. I like to think we are getting good at breaking down and objectively thinking about the quality of books. However, this month we have read a book for our book club that calls our skills into question because a lot of us honestly can’t decide what we think of it.

Introducing Super Extra Grande, by Yoss, a short book about the life of a space veterinarian who specializes in very large animals. The book tells the story of Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, a boy who grew up to be quite large and decided to study animals who shared this trait. The book starts with him treating an animal, then spends some time talking about his life, and ends with him treating another large animal. In the course of these three events he exposes a lot of philosophy and world advice that runs the gamut from enlightening to offensive. The book is all over the place and each of us had a wildly different reaction. Due to this, we are casting aside our traditional synthesized opinion and breaking our reactions out:

Andrew –

I don’t get this book. At first I thought it was just a fun jaunt, but it got a little too offensive too quickly for me to enjoy it with just that mind set. It is highly misogynistic on paper, but by the end I started to realize that it might be satire that was completely going over my head. I really enjoyed the world building, but the setting seemed at odds with the protagonist whose outlook on everything seemed to come back to how it would benefit him. He seemed like he might be an unreliable narrator, but I genuinely couldn’t tell if that was intentional or not and it left me reeling. By the end I guess I enjoyed myself while reading the book. I was a fan of the large animals, but the commentary kinda left me upset. It puzzles and upsets me that I could read a book and my big thought when I come to the end is “I liked the animals”.

Will –

Super Extra Grande was a strange book for me. I’m normally not a fan of shorter books. I’m normally not a fan of unlikeable protagonists. I’m normally not a fan of sex (intercourse and gender) being such a major factor in the story, one way or another.

That’s where it get’s weird for me, because…well, I still don’t like those things but I really enjoyed Super Extra Grande. The protagonist was something of a misogynist, but it never felt mean-spirited or like he was trying to explain it away. I didn’t like him, but not only did I get the impression that I wasn’t supposed to, I felt almost as if the fact that he was mostly unlikeable was part of the commentary of the novel.

The juxtaposition of such a hilarious and fun concept (a future veterinarian who only deals with absurdly large and weird alien animals), with someone who seemed like the guy at the office that doesn’t really bother you on a personal level but you don’t want to spend a lot of time around really worked for me. It was reminiscent, to me, of the Alien films or the Star Wars franchise. Specifically the idea that even though it’s the future, people are still people and the problems of the world don’t really ever get solved so much as dealt with daily. I think that underlying message (at least that’s what I took from it), combined with a universe and story that reminds me of a hybrid of the Discworld and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stories really resonated with me. I don’t think everyone, or even most people, will like this book but I definitely recommend everyone at least check it out to form your own opinions.

Alex –

Super Extra Grande took time for me to orient in my head. The relationships that Dongo has with his secretaries initially bothered me because it didn’t explore them as people, and it saw them mostly as sex objects. However if your think about it in a satirical way, and see that as the most basic setup of the overall story line, it makes way more sense that he didn’t include more dialogue from the women in the book. Something that helped me orient my thoughts was actually reading reviews on both sides (highly positive and negative). The middle ground reviews were unhelpful, as this is a book that requires dissection and if you don’t dive in and break it down, you are going to bounce off. It’s a weird book and there was a lot that I liked, and not a whole lot that I loved. I almost want to read it a second time and see if I change my mind.

In conclusion, for once we don’t really have a recommendation for Super Extra Grande. Instead, we would love any readers who have read the book to tell us what they thought of it in the comments to this post because we are dying to hear more.

5 Stories About the Living Dead that You Should Be Dying to Read

Will won’t stop bothering me about the lack of zombies on the site (despite our recent reviews of the Ex-Heroes series), so he has convinced me to let him do a post demonstrating the wonder and glory of the undead. Enjoy:

Can something be a guilty pleasure if you don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take from it?

Considering I edit and contribute to a blog (this one) that trades primarily in reviewing fantasy/fiction/sci-fi/whatever, I like to think that I have what could be considered generally good taste. While I may have my soft spots, I’m usually able to tell whether a book is objectively good or not, without regard to how much I may personally enjoy the story or subject. There is one genre I have more difficulty with than others, in this regard. If you’ve read my prior reviews, you’re probably already nodding your head, a tired and long suffering look on your face. “Horror, obviously. The man likes his spooks,” you say to no one in particular as you take another sip of the mediocre coffee that your company stocks in its office kitchen. Well, to anyone who said that, no points for you! The genre is “Zombie Fiction”, and I love it all. Good, bad, indifferent, I can find something to like in all of it.

Now, that being said, I understand that most people aren’t quite fond enough of the genre to forgive what is, speaking honestly, the dearth of objectively good zombie stories. It is in this spirit that I present to you the following list of recommendations. Hopefully you try them out and find something you can enjoy without having to slog through yet another self-published ripoff of Romero’s 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead.

Please keep in mind that the following books aren’t in any particular order, except that if you haven’t read #1, stop reading this and come back to the list once you’ve finished it.

1: World War Z – Max brooks 

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Please don’t watch the movie. Actually, go ahead and watch the movie, but make sure you pretend the entire time it’s called “Brad Pitt Saves the World from Zombies” and has nothing to do with this license.

Written as a series of interviews taking place 10+ years after the conclusion of the Zombie War, World War Z is a very different experience than the books making up the rest of this list. The reader is put into the shoes of a United Nations investigator trying to find out what the cost of the Zombie war was. You are treated to interviews with people ranging across the entire spectrum of humanity. From a doctor in rural china to a young Russian soldier to the Vice President of the United States at the start of the outbreak, the viewpoints are varied and tie together incredibly well. This is a book that rewards careful attention to detail and multiple rereads, as many of the stories are intertwined and crib off of one another. This is my personal favorite book of all time and I cannot recommend this enough.

Personal Rating: 10/10

2: The Zombie Survival Guide – Max Brooks 

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Set in the same universe as World War Z, and published earlier. The Zombie Survival Guide is probably the lightest entry on the list in terms of weight and depth. It is, however, effectively comedic and fun to read.

Taking the form of a, you guessed it, survival handbook for people in zombie outbreaks, this book is very similar to titles in the Worst Case Scenario series. If you enjoy how-to guides with a sprinkling of brains and machete recommendations, this is a fast, fun book to pick up. There is also a graphic novel version of this book that, while great, I would recommend reading as a supplement after the novel itself.

Personal Rating: 8/10

3: The Morningstar Saga – Z. A. Recht

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This series is difficult to review as a single entity due to the tragic and untimely death of the author partway through the third and final book in the trilogy. The ghostwriter, Thom Brannan, did what he could but the change in tone and character voice is just too stark for me. With some major character arcs being wrapped up unsatisfactorily and a muddy, confusing end, I can’t personally recommend book 3.

All that being said, I thoroughly enjoy Recht’s take on zombies. He combines the two classic versions (fast rage zombies and slow relentless zombies) into different stages of the same infection. This gives a formulaic “military response to global catastrophe” story a breath of fresh air. While nothing is absolutely exceptional, all the ingredients work well together and create some zombie fiction comfort food.

Personal Rating: Plague of the Dead – 8/10  Thunder and Ashes  9/10 Survivors – 4/10

4: Day by Day Armageddon – J. L. Bourne

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Another military-focused entry on the list, which is something of a theme for the genre, Bourne eschews the more standard pov of the military machine itself in favor of a single soldier.

Taking the form of the (now ex) soldier’s journal entries, we are treated to a….day by day…look at the world falling apart and the overall struggle to survive in a worldwide collapse. With simple, direct prose informed by the journalistic window-dressing, Day by Day Armageddon is a quick, fun read that I highly recommend.

Personal Rating: 8.5/10

5: The Remaining – D. J. Molles

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Well, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but for those of you who are turned off by military fiction the zombie genre is likely not the place for you.

The Remaining is written from the perspective of Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army. Lee is an embedded agent specifically trained to maintain the rule of law in the US and rebuild after any near-apocalyptic event. If that sounds awfully convenient to you, well it is. While there are some things in this series that you may roll your eyes at, the action is well written and nothing I read was too egregious to overlook.

Personal Rating: 8.5/10

Well there you go. Now, valued and beloved reader, you are ready to take your first slow, shambling steps into the world of zombie fiction. With this list you should be able to get a nice strong start, without getting completely turned off by thinking that my zombie fan fiction is actually anything you ever want to read (you do, by the way, it’s pretty great). At the very least go read World War Z, it’s been out forever and it’s amazing. No, really, I promise, just read it and you’ll see.

-Will

The Mirror Empire – Great Ideas Hurt By Bad Prose

20646731This is both a review for The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley, and a commentary on Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone, which was previously reviewed in a guest post by one of the editors (you can check out his great post here). I lump these two seemingly unrelated books together because I believe that they both suffer from the same problem: the author has built an amazing and interesting world with cool concepts and ideas, but the fun of it is sucked out by generally bad character writing and prose. Sorry to spoil my final synopsis in the introduction, but today I am going to be talking about how no matter how cool your book is – if all your characters are terrible I do not want to read it.

Let us start off with the good. The Mirror Empire has without a doubt one of my favorite magic systems I have ever read. The magic of the book is based on four moon/satellites that orbit the planet – waxing and waning on different schedules. Various mages and kingdoms are attuned to different moons, and their strength waxes and wanes with them – on average coming into power for 10ish years and then being powerless for the next ten with lots of overlap. What this does is create an extremely interesting setting of countries going to town on one another as they rise and fall in strength. It creates a very believable scenario where people are being invaded and invading others on a decade cycle that is unending and I love it. The plot of the book revolves around the small dark moon that no one thinks about coming into power for the first time in a long time, and how it is mixing up the landscape. Additionally, there is a parallel dimension where the moons have different alignments and different people have different powers and it all somehow comes into play making everything go topsy turvy. I say somehow because I did not finish The Mirror Empire, and stopped at about 50%.

If the last bit of the previous paragraph sounds confusing and overwhelming, than you would have the same feelings I did when I eventually put The Mirror Empire down.The book has a lot of great ideas floating around in it, but it feels like there are too many and that they bog down the plot and make it incomprehensible. I am ok with being in the dark and learning as I go – but when I hit the 50% mark and still didn’t really understand what was happening, and then Hurley introduced the fact that there were also going to be unexplained multiple dimensions in play, I felt overwhelmed and decided to just put the book down. This was also not helped by the fact that I did not enjoy any of the characters at all. They all seemed indistinguishable from one another to me, with the rare exception of a few being irritable to read about. I know that seems harsh but there is a lot more time spent developing the world in The Mirror Empire than the people. The characters feel like hollow vehicles that are used to push the plot along in order to showcase more cool ideas.

As mentioned, this is the same problem I ended up having with Two Serpent Rise, by Max Gladstone, despite my editor’s praise. The characters in the book just came off as truly unlikable, but mostly uninteresting. As a result, the book started to feel like a loosely threaded connection of cool ideas for a world that were stuffed into a book with no cohesion. However, those ideas are really, really cool. To give credit where credit is due, in both books I found the worlds amazing, and with a better cast I would be unsurprised to find them rising to the top of my recommendations.

Both of these books are prime examples of a personal cardinal rule for me as a reader. I will read, and love, a character driven book that has a boring backdrop hanging around it. However, no amount of cool settings will allow me to get past unrelatable characters. A book needs more than good ideas, it needs a cohesive and well written narrative to help those ideas grow and flourish. As a result, I ended up putting down The Mirror Empire and I do not recommend you pick it up.

Rating: The Mirror Empire – DNF

The Waking Fire – An Interview with Anthony Ryan

25972177The Waking Fire was my number three choice for books in 2016, so it is safe to say I enjoyed it. Thus, when an opportunity to talk to Anthony Ryan about his story and world arose, you can be sure I pounced on it. I got to speak with Anthony about why and how he created this new fantasy classic, and he provided me with some of the best answers of any author I have spoken with. If you are curious about my review for the first installment of his new series you can find it here. If you want to read the additional things Anthony has to say about his creation you can look below:

With both The Waking Fire and City of Blades this year, I am really digging the early 1900’s fantasy feel of The Waking Fire. What made you want to choose this particular setting compared to the more traditional fantasy time period? Or what was your general inspiration for the story?

I knew I wanted to write something about dragons but didn’t want a cod-Medieval setting as it didn’t really fit the themes I wanted to explore, particularly politics and economics. A post-industrialised setting seemed to offer the most opportunities. The 19th century is a period that offers a great deal of story fodder for a writer; competing empires, enormous technological and geo-political change as well as recurrent revolutions and shifting social norms. Making dragons the central component of the economy of such a world enabled me to tick all the boxes I wanted to tick.

How did you balance the different types of stories (spy, adventure, military) between Liz, Clay, and Hilemore so well?

It’s always best to write what you love so I was careful to choose three of my favourite genres when assembling my cast of characters: the spy story for Lizanne, military adventure for Hilemore and the western for Clay. I also made sure the different story types were interconnected so it seemed plausible that all three could play out in this world. The idea of the Blue trance – in which characters can communicate telepathically across huge distances – was key to ensuring the book doesn’t come across as three separate stories in one.

Who was your favorite character to write of the three? Who was the most difficult (and why)?

I didn’t really have a favourite for this one, all the characters have their pluses and minuses. Clay is a thief and occasional murderer but also brave and fiercely loyal to his friends. Lizanne has her selfless moments but she’s also a cold-blooded killer when the need arises. Hilemore is the most admirable of the three, at least on the surface, but he can be a bit of a stuffed shirt and he’s steeped in a military/conservative outlook. On the whole I think Lizanne presented the biggest challenge because she has the biggest emotional journey.

The dragons of your world are varied and interesting beyond simply being “giant fire lizards”. Were you inspired by specific animals or other sources when you were writing the various species of dragons?

There’s a reason why you can’t keep crocodiles or Komodo dragons as pets (unless you’re mad of course). Reptiles have often struck me as one of the purest examples of nature’s indifference, they kill when they’re hungry and display none of the traits humans find so endearing in fellow mammals. Although I was keen to reflect this in conceiving the drakes, presenting them as real world wild animals rather than anything mystical, it would have been boring if they were just mindless killing machines. It also made for another level of interest to the plot if the humans were to discover that there was a great deal more to the animals they had been exploiting for centuries.

Can you give a brief rundown of how you envision the Ironship Trading Syndicate and the Corvantine Empire? Will we be seeing them more fleshed out in the second book?

The template for the Ironship Trading Syndicate came from the British East India Company of the 18th-19th Century which operated its own army and navy in controlling much of the Indian sub-continent. At the height of its powers this company was probably the richest single entity on Earth, outstripping the governments of the day. Therefore it wasn’t too much of an imaginative leap to conceive of a scenario in which companies like this had simply taken over in the wake of a socio-economic upheaval. I conceived the Corvantine Empire as a bulwark against the rise of corporatism. In some ways it’s of a mix of Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia, being both territorially ambitious and decadent to the point where it’s constantly beset by revolt and internal division. We’ll be seeing more of the internal workings of the Syndicate and a lot more of the Corvantine Empire in the second book.

What did you learn from writing your earlier series. The Raven’s Shadow, that you applied to your work on the Draconis Memoria?

My planning and editing processes have become a lot more efficient as a result of writing the Raven’s Shadow books, however, the actual writing itself never seems to get any easier. I think the main lesson I learned is the importance of deadlines – no book ever wrote itself and making sure you deliver on time requires constant and regular effort.

Without giving away spoilers, where does the second book in the Draconis Memoria take us and what are some of the themes?

Revolution is a much more prominent theme in the second book (which is called The Legion of Flame). The characters will be journeying far and wide so we’ll be seeing more of the world beyond the continent of Arradsia, we’ll also learn what the White Drake has in store for humanity and it’s hardly a spoiler to say that it’s not good.

One of my desires from The Waking Fire was to hear more from Hilemore, will he be getting a larger part in book 2?

Hilemore has a prominent role in The Legion of Flame but his overall screen time is about the same as in The Waking Fire. It looks like he’ll have an enlarged role in book 3 though.

Do you think there will be any additional perspectives in the future books, or will you be sticking with our three current leads?

There is one additional point of view character in The Legion of Flame who we’ve met before, but I won’t say who because it’s a massive spoiler. Clay, Lizanne and Hilemore are all back though.

What are you reading in your spare time right now, and do you have any current recommendations of things you have read recently?

I recently finished The Mirror’s Truth, Michael R Fletcher’s sequel to Beyond Redemption which more than lived up to its predecessor – neither are for the faint-hearted though. I also just completed Max Hastings’ The Secret War which is an excellent history of espionage and codebreaking in World War II. Currently, I just started The Judging Eye by R Scott Bakker and Reel History by Alex von Tunzelmann, an often hilarious comparison of Hollywood versus real history.

It is a common refrain of fantasy writers that they “don’t read fantasy”. Is that the case with you, and if not what other fantasy writers would you recommend, personally?

I do still read fantasy but think it’s important to explore other genres as well as reading non-fiction. Fantasy writers I enjoy include the already mentioned Michael R Fletcher and R Scott Bakker, whilst the works of KV Johansen and Django Wexler were a recent happy discovery. I’ll also probably read anything by Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, China Mieville and the late great David Gemmell.

Ex-Patriots – Maybe I Spoke To Soon

51ylopquktl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I did a review of Ex-Heroes, by Peter Clines, recently where I essentially said “cool concept, needs better writing”. I thought the book had potential but some dependency on superhero cliches and an overuse of sex appeal left me a little unimpressed. However, the book still appealed to me despite these turn offs and when I noticed the second book, Ex-Patriots, had a significantly higher Goodreads score, I thought why not give it a second chance. My single favorite thing to see an author do is improve from past work, and Ex-Patriots does this in spades. Many authors (and readers) get obsessed with this idea that authors must start brilliant, and stay brilliant, when often that is untrue. Everyone needs to learn and improve at their job, authors are no exception, so when I read a second book that addresses issues like Ex-Patriots does – well it fills me with glee.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Ex franchise or who didn’t click on the convenient link to the first review, the premise of Ex-Heroes is that a meteor hit the earth and a whole bunch of people woke up one day with superpowers, right about the same time we had a zombie apocalypse.  Now all that is left of humanity is small bastions that are holding out against the plague – many with superpowered guardians. Our story follows a small cohort of heroes holed up with a thousand civilians in an old movie studio in Hollywood. The first book, Ex-Heroes, dealt with some nasty LA gangs that survived the zombie apocalypse. The second book, Ex-Patriots, deals with the military and how they are handling both the advent of superheroes and zombies.

I would like to first start off by saying my initial issues with Ex-Heroes are gone in Ex-Patriots. Clines dumped the oversexuality so that his characters still do it and have relationships, but every female character isn’t described by their bra size and every male by the girth of their bulge. Instead the characters are given much more, and much better, characterization that makes them a lot more fun to read about and got me invested in their survival pretty quickly. On top of this, Clines seems to have found his stride when it comes to making his heroes seem badass, as Ex-Patriots paints our team like the Justice League, where Ex-Heroes made them seem like a bunch of whiney teenagers. The humor is much more on point, and Clines has taken a more mature angle at tackling characters’ inner demons than previously.

The actual plot of the book revolves around the military and their new role in the post apocalyptic wasteland that is the USA. I really enjoyed how Clines handled the military in the story, paying homage to all the zombie and superhero military tropes, but also building himself something completely new. The plot and worldbuilding are getting more complex and Ex-Patriots got me much more invested overall in the world and trying to fix it. There are a slew of great new characters, including a fantastic new villain, that also bring a lot to the table and pump the excitement up a notch. This, combined with some great fighting, made the book action packed and thrilling from start to finish. My one criticism would be that some sections of the book still felt a little over the top, even for a superhero zombie apocalypse book, and hard to take seriously, but they were so few compared to Ex-Heroes that they didn’t really even bother me.

All in all, it feels like Clines looked at the feedback his readers gave him from book one and kept the good while fixing all the bad. The result is a much stronger book that I really enjoyed and happily recommend. I will definitely be continuing this series and if you think you can get past a tepid first book, you should look into picking up this fun series.

Rating: Ex-Patriots – 8.0/10

The Fifth Season -Breaking All Expectations

19161852I feel finished with the Hugos. The absolute disaster that has surrounded the Hugo Awards for the last two years has turned me off the entire award ceremony and I do not have the patience or the time to dig through what is happening any longer. As such, I ignored all the winners of the Hugo awards in the past year and treated the books as if they hadn’t be lauded for their excellence… a move that has turned out to be a huge mistake. The Fifth Season, by Nora Jemisin, was the ‘Best Novel’ award winner of the Hugos last year, and regardless of whether or not the Hugos are a sham these days, it is a really good book.

The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy, and it starts off strong. The book tells the story of an Earth that frequently experiences extinction level natural disasters, called fifth seasons, that tend to kill most of the humans left living on the planet. The humans have becomes ruled by necessity, adapting their lives to the sole purpose of surviving. The majority of fifth seasons come from enormous tectonic activity on the planet’s surface, causing earthquakes and ash falls that crush and smother everything in their path. The good news is that a small portion of people (orogenes) on the planet are born with the the magical ability to bend the earth to their will and control quakes and disasters. The bad news is that these individuals can sometimes be wildly out of control of their powers – creating more danger than they prevent – and have to be placed into essentially slavery to ensure the continuation of the species.

Our journey follows three protagonists, Essun, Syenite, and Damaya – three orogenes who are surrounded with different circumstance. Damaya is a small child who is discovered to have powers and demonstrates the fear, terror, and danger the earthmancers create around them. Syenite is a fully trained and accomplished orogene of the establishment who is sent out on missions and is currently being forced to breed with another powerful orogene to produce useful children. Finally, Essun is a rogue orogene – on the run from everyone – and simply trying to hide and live with her children and escape persecution. Each of these characters helps bring to life Jemisin’s world and do an incredible job establishing it as a living breathing thing with a lot of grey areas when it comes to morality. Jemisin hits the sweet spot where she has created a world clearly driven by necessity, but her world building doesn’t feel like it is just going for shock value.

The Fifth Season’s strongest asset is its prose. Jemisin has a once in a generation voice that is masterful in its storytelling. I love books that play with perspective well, and this certainly qualifies. The story is told in the form of a conversation, as if the book is talking with you. It creates this strange and intense feeling of connection with the characters and had me incredibly immersed right off the bat in their stories. The book is also incredibly diverse, with characters of all ethnicities, genders, orientations etc. The book manages to have something for everyone without feeling like it was written just to meet a diversity quota, which I really enjoy.

My one dislike for The Fifth Season is that the conversation style writing could sometimes make me feel like I was missing key plot points and that things were going over my head. However, this is much more a function of me needing to take the time to read close than poor writing. I found the plot so exciting and compelling that I rarely wanted to slow down to closely examine things. I sense that a reread of the series would be greatly rewarding.

The Fifth Season likely would have been in my top 3 in 2015 (possibly even #1) had I read it that year. The story and world are fascinating, the characters are fantastic, and the prose creates a unique and unforgettable experience that I can’t wait to have more of. I feel that Jemisin is likely one of the best writers of the current generations, and that everyone should check out this book. The Quill to Live ecstatically recommends The Fifth Season.

Rating: The Fifth Season – 9.5/10

The Bear And The Nightingale – Walking in Winter’s Wonderland

28862387A really quick way to rise to the top of my to-read list is to write a fantasy novel in a setting I haven’t read before. I have had some interesting firsts recently with historical fictions about the Netherlands, Aztec fantasy, 1900’s fantasy, workplace fantasy, and now Russian fantasy. The Bear and the Nightingale is the debut of Katherine Arden, and based on Russian folklore. When I first learned about the book’s existence, I was intrigued. I am extremely unfamiliar with Russian culture, though a quick spin through wikipedia got me excited to see it in a fantasy setting.

The book tells the story of Vasilisa and her interesting life from start to finish (more or less). The beginning of the tale felt a bit slow to me. We start with the birth and early childhood of Vasilisa, something that was not quite riveting. However, as Vasilisa starts to grow so did my appreciation for The Bear and Nightingale. The story revolves around the clash of Catholicism and Russian spirituality. Vasilisa has a connection to the spirits of Russia, most importantly Frost, the embodiment of winter. The encroachment of Catholicism starts to eat away at the strength of spirits, and threatens to release a prisoner long held dormant.

Vasilisa was a interesting character to follow around, but I never grew too attached to her. The Bear and Nightingale’s strength for me came from bringing Russia’s folklore to life, and teaching me more about the subject. This merit however did not really do enough to make the book particularly memorable. I am finding it extremely hard to remember the feelings and thoughts about the story that I made note of for my review, and that in and of itself is becoming the review. The book as a whole had great prose, except for some overly descriptive scenes. In one instance Arden described someone “fluttering their eyelids like wounded birds” and I stopped for a good three minutes trying to imagine what that would look like. The world building was great, getting me excited about Russia, though I would have liked to see more of it. There were very exciting scenes at the Great Bazaar and Kremlin, but we only spent a moment in them compared to a large portion of time in the forest.

The book is a fresh reminder that fantasy can be more than elves, orcs, and dragons (though there is nothing wrong with those things). It was an interesting look into Russian culture (note: as far as I know, I am not Russian) and the story feels fairly satisfying through and through. However, I just can’t find that much to say about it and while I don’t regret my time spent reading The Bear and Nightingale at all, I am also not exactly clamoring for a sequel either. If the idea of a fantasy novel based on Russian folklore excites you, this could be a great book for you, but if you find yourself uncaring about the lives of Russian peasants in Siberia, you might want to skip this one.

Rating: The Bear and Nightingale – 7.0/10