Let’s start the new year fantastically: check out our new fantasy novels coming out this week at the Field Library.
It may seem a bit redundant to be reading a book set in Russia in winter at this time of year, especially if you look to reading to give you an escape from the ordinary world, but The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden*, is beautiful and strange enough that you might very well be willing to enter into the depths of a Russian winter in the middle of a New York winter as well. Vasilisa, the protagonist, is a girl living with her parents and her siblings in a cabin in the woods at the beginning of the novel, listening to fairy tales of old Russia, and particularly those having to do with Frost, the demon of winter, both cruel and kind. She and her family have a sensible caution about Frost’s power and potential danger, and pay careful heed to the house spirits which protect them from Frost. In true fairytale fashion, Vasilisa’s mother dies and her father goes to the city to find a new bride. The woman he brings home, however, is modern and religious and forbids the family from its old fashioned placating of the house spirits. Vasilisa and the other children comply but Vasilisa knows this is going to cause trouble down the line, and indeed, things do start going wrong: crops fail, weather intensifies, evil creatures out of legend stalk the area, and Vasilisa’s new stepmother bears down harder and harder on her, trying to break her rebellious spirit and make her a good candidate for marriage or the convent. In the end, Vasilisa has to take matters into her own hands and use powers she’s never even admitted having, to protect her family from a danger that could have come from the fairy tales their nurse used to tell them.
If winter in Russia is too much to face in January, then perhaps you’d rather take a trip to ancient Troy and the retelling of the story of the Trojan War in For the Most Beautiful, by Emily Hauser**. The Trojan War has been told in many different forms, from The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer to The Aeneid, to Trojan Women to the Orestes cycle of plays, and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida through modern retellings such as the movie, Troy. This version starts with some of the women involved in the war, notably Krisayis, daughter of the high priest of Troy, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, and interweaves their stories with the more familiar tales of Achilles and Hector, of Helen and Agamemnon, Odysseus and the gods, leading up to the tragic battles that led to the deaths of Hector and Achilles, the deployment of the Trojan Horse and the fall of one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. There’s much in this cycle of stories, whether they’re based on actual history or based on mythology, that has fascinated people for thousands of years, but the classic stories have paid much more attention to the men involved, and this book brings us a much needed balance by showing us the female side of the legend.
Stay tuned; there are more intriguing new fantasy novels due to hit our shelves in the next couple of weeks, and we’ll be covering them soon.
* Which, for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, qualifies both as a fantasy novel AND a debut novel, covering two categories. Using one book for two categories is entirely kosher and even recommended.
**Also a debut novel and fantasy novel, if you’re keeping track.