Mar. 15th, 2017

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15. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This is the book that Facebook kept trying to sell me, and it sounded relevant to my interests. I wasn't entirely convinced so I got it from the library.

It's a fairytale set in the far north of late medieval Russia during the rule of the Mongol Horde. In the glossary and author's note, she admits to taking some liberties with dates - not that you'd notice; medieval Russia is pretty damn obscure. I don't know much more about Russian folklore but this has the right feeling about it. Again, the author is not claiming authenticity.

It's about a young noble girl growing up in the northern woods. There are portents surrounding her birth, and she grows up being able to see the household and nature spirits that protect the people, animals and crops in the area (which everyone acknowledges exists but nobody else can see). That is, until her father remarries and her religious fanatic stepmother sees them and believes they are demons; she has an equally fanatic priest brought from Moscow. There follows a struggle for the survival of the village.

It's also about growing up, family, expected social roles and fanatacism.

It comes very close to being one of those books that is just so magical you can't put it down, but for reasons I can't put my finger on, didn't quite achieve that. It's still a captivating story that I enjoyed immensely, and I highly recommend it.


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16. Early Medieval Scotland: Individuals, Communities and Ideas b David Clarke, Alice Blackwell and Martin Goldberg

I picked this up at the National Museum of Scotland last year. Early medieval Scotland is an extremely poorly documented period; this is an account of what we currently think the archaeology is telling us. I admit to mainly buying it because it's full of gorgeous colour photos. The text is a bit dry but it brought me up to speed on a subject where there was a gap (I know a lot about most of the rest of northern Europe during this period). Definitely worth it for the photos though.


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