[ARC] The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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Vasya is born in northern Russia, she is the daughter of the noble head of the village. Vasya is different, in her there is an old magic, and since childhood she is able to see the spirits around the village, both the guardian and the evil ones.

Life is happy, but the change is near: Vasya’s father, a widow, marries a noble woman who fears constantly the evil spirits, and in the village comes a new priest, young and ambitious.

The evil spirit, bound to the forest since years back, tries to exploit these changes in the town; Vasya ends up to be almost the only one to fight the evil to come.

The Bear and The Nightingale has the features of a fairy tale, but deals with strong themes: the traditional culture that is forgotten and lost in favour of new traditions, the suggestions that bring people to change their beliefs, the uncontrolled ambition that does not care for humanity and reason.

The novel is wonderful, adventurous and compelling, the story keeps constantly the reader in suspense, the characters are alive and the setting in the frosted Russia is wonderfully crafted. I’m enthusiast there is the possibility of a follow-up novel, and I absolutely suggest to read this installment.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me the copy necessary to write this review.


* The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden ★★★★★

*I read this book in english

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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Yeong-hye has always been ordinary, plain if you listen at her husband – who choose her for her mediocrity, until the night of the nightmare. After that night she decided not to eat meat anymore, becoming a vegetarian (in truth she was a vegan).

The change of diet is the manifestation of something else: Yeong-hye is no more able to sleep and detach herself more and more from reality, pointing out how her alimentary change was linked more to psychic issues than social ones.

Yeong-hye’s story is told by three voices, her husband, her brother in law and her sister, and only a couple of time we are allowed to hear the protagonist thoughts, and only in the first part of the book.

The atmosphere of the story is still and creepy,  Yeong-hye’s problem, more serious than its appearance, is not faced by her family, and only her sister will decide to help Yeong-hye, and only when her schizophrenia will be evident.

The Vegetarian is also about South Korea society, a patriarchal one, based on traditions that can not be modified: Yeong-hye’s decision not to eat meat will cause great troubles, like her husband decision to divorce her. 

The novel is short but sharp, the setting is something I associate with Japanese ones (still and creepy) and all the characters seem to share with the protagonist an emotional detachment, a hint of madness.


* The Vegetarian by Han Kang ★★★★☆

*I read this book in english

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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Quella di Mr. Penumbra è una libreria particolare: gli scaffali nella parte retrostante del locale sono altissimi e contengono libri dai titoli strani e mai pubblicati. Strani sono anche gli anziani visitatori, come si accorgerà il nuovo commesso, Clay Jannon.

Il lavoro in questa libreria sarà per il protagonista l’esperienza di una vita; oltre a fargli incontrare persone stimolanti (tra cui Kat, programmatrice e designer in Google), Clay si interesserà al mistero celato dalla libreria, dai suoi libri misteriosi e dagli anziani frequentatori.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, oltre a essere un romanzo ricco di misteri che arrivano direttamente dal passato, fa riflettere sul rapporto tra il presente e il passato nella lettura e nell’analisi di dati. E affronta il problema a diversi livelli, dalla tipografia e lo studio dei caratteri fino al veicolo della lettura vero e proprio (libro o ebook? O entrambi?). Il romanzo mette a confronto due generazioni, quella dei primi calcolatori e quella digitale, con Google che ha un peso importante nel romanzo.

Mi è piaciuto il modo di affrontare questo tema e la conclusione del ragionamento: le potenzialità del digitale sono vaste ma non infinite, è giusto sfruttare i mezzi disponibili senza però affidarsi completamente a loro (lo scotto è di finire come l’uomo che ha inventato le moltiplicazioni  come nel racconto di Asimov – The Feeling of Power).

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Mr. Penumbra’s library is a particular one: the shelves in the back of the store are very high and contain books with strange titles and never published. Also it’s visitors are strange, old people, as the new clerk, Clay Jannon, will soon discover.

Working in this library for the main character will be a great experience; he will meet interesting people (like Kat, a Google programmer and designer), and he will begin to dig around the mystery behind the library, the books and the old readers.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is a novel full of ancient mysteries, but also a thought about the relation between past and present concerning reading and data analysis. And it deals with the problem at various levels, from typography and the sturdy of characters to the reading device (book or e-book? Or both?). Two the generation in contrast: the one of the first calculators and the digital one, with Google that has quite an important part in the novel.

I liked the way the theme was dealt with and the conclusion: the potentiality of digital era are vast but not infinite, and it’s right to face a problem by using all the available means, but it’s also important not to put all the faith in them (otherwise we will end like the man who discovered multiplication in the Asimov tale The Feeling of Power).

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan ★★★★☆