The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

The Bear and The Nightingale is a beautiful, fairytale-like story set around 14th Century Russia. Inspired by many Russian folklore tales, specifically the story of Morozko the Frost King, it follows the life of Vasya. It’s a story of family, the rising of orthodox Christianity in a pagan land that still worships household spirits, sacrifice, and wild untameable girls. The Bear and the Nightingale perfectly weaves fairytale into reality, incorporating traditional Slavic spirits – such as the household protective spirit, the domovoi – with harsh Russian winters and the day to day life of a family living by the forest in Northern Russia in the Middle Ages. 
A quick summary of the book – Vasya is born to Marina and Pyotr, and Marina predicts that Vasya will be different, as her mother was (a woman who many believed to be dabbling in witchcraft). Marina dies giving birth to Vasya, but pleas with Pyotr to protect her, telling him that she is special. The years pass, and Pyotr travels to Moscow to find a husband for his eldest daughter Olga, and a new wife for himself. When leaving the city, a stranger threatens Pyotr’s son, and in exchange for his life, bids Pyotr to give his youngest daughter (Vasya) a necklace embedded with a precious jewel. Pyotr is unwilling, and gives the necklace to the household maid, Dunya, to gift Vasya with. Dunya recognises the necklace for what it is – a gift from the Frost King Morozko – and pleads with him to let her keep the necklace safe until Vasya is grown. 
Meanwhile, the Priest Konstantin arrives in Vasya’s village. Anna, her stepmother, tells the Priest that she sees demons everywhere, and Konstantin makes it his mission to rid the village of their pagan ways. In turn, Vasya discovers that she must protect these demons – actually the Russian protective spirits of the household, horses etc – in order to protect her family. As Vasya grows into a young woman, Konstantin is constantly tempted by her, whilst at the same time believing her to be a witch. What follows is a battle against darker forces than either Vasya or Konstantin expected to be up against, in the dark Russian midwinter.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book – I’ve always been a huge fan of Russian folklore and modern day novels inspired by it, and this book introduced me to a traditional Russian tale that I haven’t come across before. Vasya was the perfect main character – she was elusive, brave and plucky, and as wild as the author made her out to be. In my opinion, the balance between mythology and reality was absolutely perfect; the two were expertly blended and neither felt as though it was overpowering the other. I enjoyed the relationship between Konstantin and Vasya – the way that he was drawn to her whilst at the same time almost repulsed by her, and the way she constantly felt the need to protect him even though she believed that he would cause the downfall of her village and her people. This was such a complex, magical book, and I would definitely recommend it, especially if you enjoy Russian mythology or similar slow-building fantasy novels (for example, Uprooted by Naomi Novik).



…And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

…And a Happy New Year? is a novella in the Spinster Club series, set around a year after What’s a Girl Gotta Do? It’s a short but sweet update on what the girls got up to since they left sixth form, set at what should be a New Year’s party to remember that Amber is hosting. However, each of the girls is keeping a secret from the other two, and as the Spinster Club slowly begins to fall apart, can the girls open up enough to save their friendship?

I was so excited for this book to be released; after the ending of What’s a Girl Gotta Do? I just had to know what Evie, Lottie and Amber were up to now. By the end of the previous book, the girls all seemed to have grown and adapted a lot more – Evie was beginning to be in control of her OCD and anxiety, Amber had gotten more self confident as well as started to fix her family relationships, and Lottie was standing up for what she believed in, and was about to have an interview at Cambridge University – not to mention the fact that all three girls seemingly had found the perfect boyfriends. A year or so later though, there are new problems arising – Evie is dealing with her boyfriend Oli relapsing with his anxiety, Amber is keeping a huge secret from her best friends related to her and her boyfriend Kyle, and Lottie is struggling at Uni (although, I won’t tell you which one she chose!). The girls’ problems come to a head at Amber’s New Years Eve party, where they must all reveal the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other. I was actually so glad that the girls’ lives didn’t just stay as perfect as they were at the end of book three – I met each of these girls at their lowest points and showing all of their flaws, and for them to now have perfect lives just wouldn’t have fit with the rest of the series.
Although I did enjoy this novella, and think it was great that I could see where the girls I’d fell so hard for were at now, I had just one problem with this book. Although I knew this was going to be a short book, I needed more than the 199 pages that the story covered. I needed a full, 350+ page novel updating me on the Spinster Club girls. Really, it all just felt a bit too rushed for me. I also just didn’t like Lottie as much as I did in the three novels of the series, for some reason. However, ignoring these slight problems, it really was great to have one last Spinster Club meeting, and I truly will miss this series and these girls! 
Have you read the final installment of The Spinster Club series?


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night, a retelling of the Russian folklore tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, tells the story of Vassa, a young girl living in an alternate Brooklyn that is plagued by dark magic. Residents of Vassa’s neighbourhood have noticed that, whilst the days last mere hours, the nights last for days – and this all started when the local convenience store,  BY’s, was open by Babs Yagg – a shopkeeper who has a tendency to behead thieves. When Vassa heads out to BY’s in need of lightbulbs, she finds herself tied up in a contract with Babs, and her life will be forfeit if she’s unable to work at the store for three nights without making any mistakes. However, Vassa has help – a magical wooden doll by the name of Erg, made for Vassa by her mother before she passed away. With Erg’s trickery, can Vassa survive three nights at BY’s, and maybe even break the curse upon her neighbourhood?

Bookmark from Behind the Pages

I’ve always been a huge fan of Russian-inspired fiction, so when I received Vassa in the Night in September’s Fairyloot box, I was over the moon! I had previously read the tale of Vasilisa the Beautiful, and I would recommend reading it if you’re planning on looking into this novel – if anything, it’ll help you understand what’s going on when the magic gets too much!

Overall, Vassa in the Night is quite a quirky, nonsensical book – but this is often the case with folklore, and definitely isn’t a negative. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite books, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, but is written in a much more whimsical style to this. The book is very much written like a fairytale, what with the “things coming in threes” aspect, the overarching quest to save Brooklyn, the hero (Vassa) and the villain (Babs). There were also interludes which took place whilst Vassa was asleep, a little touch which I really liked – and these definitely complemented the plot. 

Vassa as a main character was interesting, but I didn’t fully connect with her. I liked her attitude and sarcasm, but would’ve liked to have got to know her a little bit better. I do feel as though Erg got in the way of this at points, as she could be a very irritating character at times. I sometimes struggle with magic realism as a genre, but it managed to (mostly) make complete sense in this book – it worked well, in any case. It stuck to both the original story and to Russian folklore in general really well, and I appreciated this as the Russian aspects were basically what made me want to read it in the first place. 

The only negatives I had with this book was that it could be a bit slow at times – considering that the majority of it is set in one location, this is bound to happen. I also did get a bit confused at some points, such as some sort of crazy fight scene towards the end (which confused me so much that I genuinely am not quite sure what happened). There was also a bit of a love interest at one point, which I just didn’t understand – it came from nowhere and had absolutely no build up or purpose.

I’m not entirely sure who to recommend this book to, just because it’s written in such a niche style, but if you’re interested in Russian mythology or magic realism, I would definitely recommend taking a look at it! 

Have you read Vassa in the Night? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!


Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

In the conclusion to Wolf by Wolf, set in an alternate 1956 where Germany won WWII, Yael must deal with the consequences of her mission to assassinate the Führer, Adolf Hitler. After racing over 20,000 miles across Europe, Africa and Asia whilst wearing a face that isn’t hers, she must return to Germania without being caught by the SS and discovered as the skinshifter they are searching for. With resistance groups starting revolutions across the continent and SS members determined to keep control of the Third Reich, Yael must fight to see her mission through to the end, at whatever cost.
Since finishing Wolf By Wolf with it’s ever so slightly evil cliffhanger, I always knew Blood For Blood would be a heartbreaker. How right I was. 
Blood For Blood kicks off immediately where Wolf By Wolf left off, with Yael attempting to flee Japan and return to Germania (the Berlin of this alternate Europe). I fould Wolf By Wolf to be a very fast paced, plot based book, and Blood For Blood is quite the opposite – the plot is much slower for the majority of the book, and focuses a lot more on character and relationship building. However, this definitely isn’t a bad thing! 
Yael has always been a mysterious character, and remained so throughout Blood For Blood – I do feel as though I got to know her a lot better than I did in Wolf By Wolf though, and learning more and more details about her backstory in the labour camp was just heartbreaking. Not only did you learn more about Yael in this book, but she matured so much and learned how to control her emotions more. I adored her rash braveness in Wolf By Wolf, but the way she behaved in this book seemed much more fitting with everything that she went through in it. Although Yael faced so many challenges in Wolf By Wolf, none of them were really her facing her true fears, and in Blood For Blood she is confronted with challenges that are so much closer to her heart. Yael opens up to people so much and slowly starts to learn how to trust and love again and hey, even though she’s fictional, I am so proud of her.
There isn’t all that much of an authentic romance in Wolf By Wolf (considering that Yael is impersonating someone else for the majority of it) but there is one in Blood For Blood, which after the events of Wolf By Wolf, does just seem to make sense. I’m so grateful that the romance was slow-burning, as well – it wasn’t forced or rushed into, and it developed at the right pace considering the events going on around the characters. 
Some new alliances are made in Yael’s quest to overthrow the Nazi’s, and new characters are introduced. I won’t say much about them so I don’t slip into spoiler territory, but I love Comrade Mnogolikiy. You’ll get to know them by other names once you read the book 😉 
As well as new characters, we’ve still got point of view chapters from characters from the previous book – Luka, everyone’s favourite badboy, and Felix, the grumpy German teddy bear. Both are fighting their own moral battles throughout and I just love how each character’s story played out and the way in which they all intertwined. 
I won’t say much about the ending apart from this – it broke me in more than just a couple of ways. This book just wouldn’t stop playing with my emotions, and I know that that ending will stick with me for a long time.
If you’ve read Wolf By Wolf, you need to go and read this sequel right this second – and if you haven’t read Wolf By Wolf yet, what are you waiting for?
What do you think of the Wolf By Wolf series? Let us know in the comments!


Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Black Witches are born in a glen,

sweet little triplets 
will never be friends.

Three Black Witches, all fair to be seen
two to devour
and one to be queen.

Three Dark Crowns tells the story of three triplet Queens, each with their own type of magic. On the festival of Beltane once the queens are sixteen, their fight to the death begins, and only one queen can survive to become the Queen Crowned of Fennbirn.
This book is told from the points of view of all three sisters, which I enjoyed as it meant you got to know each sister individually, rather than from others thoughts. This writing style, however, did mean that the book took a while to get into, as you had to wait for each sisters chapter to roll around again to learn more of them. If you can be patient with the slow beginning though, this book is definitely worth it!
Each of the triplets has been trained since they were six by families who have powers that are the same as theirs. Once the Ascension year began (starting on their sixteenth birthday) preparations for Beltane began too, including suitors visiting the queens – the book itself isn’t entirely clear on how a suitor is chosen, but presumably one will be chosen to marry whichever sister becomes the Queen Crowned.

Here’s a little about each sister:

  • Mirabella is an elemental, able to control fire, water and wind. Her power is famed across the island of Fennbirn, to the point where even the priestesses of the island are openly backing her, an act which hasn’t been done before. Although most expect Mirabella to easily kill her sisters and become the Queen Crowned, Mirabella still remembers her sisters as children and wants to protect them.
  • Katharine is a poisoner, with the ability to digest any poison and survive, and a skill mixing them too. However, Katharine grows sicker each time she is poisoned, to the point where she’s incredibly thin and frail and is always covered in scabs, bruises and scars. The Queen Crowned has been the poisoner queen for the last hundred years, and the family training Katharine are keen to keep the poisoners on the throne.
  • Arsinoe is a naturalist, and should be able to make flowers bloom and crops grow, as well as having an animal familiar. Arsinoe’s power, however, is the weakest of the sisters. She struggles to even make a flower look a bit more colourful, and has basically given up any hope of becoming Queen Crowned. She lives with Jules, a very skilled naturalist who has a large cat as a familiar.
Katharine’s chapter is first, and she immediately became my favourite triplet – I found Mirabella hard to connect with and was bored by Arsinoe’s chapters to begin with, as they seemed much more focused on her friend Jules than on Arsinoe herself. However, I grew fond of her as the book went on, and I’m not sure which queen I’d root for anymore (although I’m still not fond of Mirabella). 
I liked the writing style and the setting of this book, as well as the world it’s set in (although I would like to know more about it) and the secondary characters were strong and well rounded. I didn’t find Three Dark Crowns to be predictable at all, which it could easily have become. I did think that this book would be a lot darker than it was, but it ended up being very driven by character development rather than plot based, and I do think that this style worked very well. After that huge twist at the end, I’m expecting quite a plot based sequel, anyway!

There’s just a few things that I didn’t enjoy so much about this book:

  •  As previously mentioned, the beginning is quite slow – probably the first 50 pages at least. Although not much happens here, I would encourage you to stick it out and keep reading!
  • There is a love triangle, and in my opinion, it wasn’t the best. I can’t say much about it without including spoilers, but I’ll just say that I really don’t think that the male character involved in the love triangle has any excuse for what he does in the book, and unless he’s been lying from the start, it’s just a bit ridiculous of him.
  • I would have liked more world building – a lot of history was mentioned that hadn’t been expanded upon much. Maybe this will happen in the sequel, though! 

Overall, I really enjoyed Three Dark Crowns and would recommend it to most fantasy lovers. However, if a fast paced plot is what you’re after, this book probably isn’t for you.
Have you read Three Dark Crowns yet? What did you think of it?


Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

“The world will be saved and remade by the dreamers.”

In the highly anticipated fifth installment of the Throne of Glass series, Aelin Galathynius discovers that, despite unlocking her powers and revealing herself to the world, she still has a long way to go to claim her crown. Aelin must now forge alliances with her former enemies for Terrasen, and call in life debts from her time as Celaena Sardothien to defeat the darkness that is taking over Erilea.


I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a long time – since Queen of Shadows came out a year ago, really – but I do feel as though Empire of Storms was missing a few things. Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy this book, I just think I would’ve liked to have seen a couple of things done differently.
So, what I liked. First off, the character development. Although I didn’t think that Aelin herself developed much in this book, she’s grown a lot in the previous four books. A lot of the secondary characters of this series were focused on much more in this book, and therefore were able to grow a lot – especially Elide, who has come so far from when she was first introduced. Manon was also in EoS a lot, and as always, remains one of my favourite characters of this series. 
(Whilst we’re on secondary characters, I’ll briefly mention Chaol. It’s already been commented on by many people that he isn’t in this book, and that’s true. However, he didn’t need to be. Frankly, with where he was at the end of Queen of Shadows, I didn’t even expect him to make an appearance again until the sixth book. I have no doubt that he will be back in the final book of the series, and that him being in Empire of Storms wouldn’t have enhanced the story in any way.)
Despite the lack of Chaol, many characters from the series who we haven’t seen for a while do make a reappearance! 
Many of the secrets and mysteries from the rest of the series, some even dating back to Throne of Glass, are unravelled in Empire of Storms. Learning the meaning behind some of Elena’s messages and codes was heartbreaking, and the answers to many of Aelin’s question’s weren’t what I was expecting at all. I look forward to seeing how they unfold in the final book. 
The lack of Aelin point of view chapters did irritate me at first, however as the book goes on, you begin to see that this is all to enhance what’s happening behind the scenes. It becomes clear that Aelin has been playing a very long game to get where her and her court needed to be at the end of this book, and I loved discovering how each little plot line linked together.
Now, onto the reasons that I perhaps wouldn’t rate Empire of Storms as highly as the previous books in the series. 
Although I ‘liked’ the ending (for want of a better word – what I really mean is that I was in tears throughout most of the last 70 pages or so), I do feel as though Sarah J. Maas has written similar before. I am trying to pass this off as an unfortunate coincidence, though…
Secondly, the sex scenes just weren’t for me (and yes, there are sex scenes in this one). I just thought that each one in the book felt really similar to each other, and not only that, but to scenes with Feyre and Rhys in A Court of Mist and Fury. I assume that this is just Maas’s style for such scenes, but it did put me off a bit.
Overall, I enjoyed Empire of Storms, just perhaps not as much as the other books in the series. After that ending though, I can’t wait for the final book to be released!
Have you read Empire of Storms yet? What were your thoughts?
Let us know in the comments!


Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

She brings the snow with her touch,
they think she’s gone, but we know she will come again,
she will reign in his stead,
she will bring down the world on his head,
oh come, snow, come…

When Snow was five years old, she attempted to walk through a mirror, cutting herself to shreds. Ever since, she has lived in the Whittaker Institute – a mental hospital in New York. When she is banned from seeing her closest friend in the hospital, Bale, she devises a plan to escape with the encouragement of a strange new boy who appears in her dreams, encouraging her to find him beyond the tree. Snow soon finds herself in a world unlike her own, full of witches, magic, and snow-wielding kings – and it just happens to be the world that she had been born in. Now, she must uncover the secrets of Algid to help her find Bale, whilst trying to learn how to control her new found powers and come to terms with her royal heritage.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC of this book!
First off, I just want to point something out – a lot of people seem to think that this is a Snow White retelling (and I did, too, before I started reading it). Although Snow White’s dwarves are mentioned, this is when Snow is talking about the fairytale, not reliving it. This story is, if anything, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Frankly though, if you’re looking for a retelling of that fairytale, I would honestly recommend sticking to watching Frozen. Really though, I think the world retelling is getting thrown around a bit too much now. This is a novel about a girl who has snow related magic and also happens to be a long lost princess, and we’ll leave it at that.
Anyway. Stealing Snow was certainly an experience. And when I say that, what I mean is I had no clue what was going on for the majority of the book.
At the beginning of the book, when Snow was still inside the institution, I was really interested. I wanted to know more about her life there, why she had been put there, about the other teens living there. Once Snow was outside and running around Algid, however, I lost interest quite fast.
Snow is taken to Algid by Jagger, wanting to find Bale, but then gets caught up with a river witch, a girl with a penchant for magic who was so insignificant that I can’t remember her name (Gaude, maybe?) and this girls sort of brother Kai, who is essentially the epitome of male YA stereotype. I have never read a character who is so unnecessarily melancholy. So, let’s review. We’re probably not even 25% into the book at this point, and we already have three love interests. When reading YA, I would expect one, if not two, love interests. But three? What? For a start, Snow has literally just met two of these boys – one of whom she believes kidnapped her first love interest, and the other who is nothing but awful to her. Second, I just don’t see the need? I didn’t think that whatever she supposedly “had” with Kai impacted the story in any way – it was completely unnecessary. 
So after Snow has had her run in with Kai and co., she meets up with Jagger again who takes her to meet a bunch of robber-girls who live in a castle, creating spells and changing their faces. You’d think everything would improve at this point, and the plot was definitely getting more interesting, but I still just didn’t care. I just can’t connect with a book if I don’t care about either the plot or the characters. 
Overall, Stealing Snow wasn’t an awful book, and I have definitely read worse. It’s real problem was that it didn’t make me feel anything. Often when I dislike a book, it’s made me really angry, but this didn’t even do that. In my opinion, there was no world building, no plot or character development, and no explanation for anything that happened in the plot (for example, how was it that Snow’s powers just happened to appear? Hadn’t she ever accidentally frozen someone as a child or something? Where did they come from?!)
This book does seem to be getting a lot of mixed reviews, so I would definitely encourage anyone who had been thinking about reading it to try it for themselves. Everyone has different opinions, after all!
Have you read Stealing Snow yet? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!