I read TheShitWizard’s review and immediately bought this book, read it, and loved it. I am all about some adult-level fairy tales. This is right up my alley.
Vasya is a wild child, the fifth in her family, in Northern Russia. She inherited her mother’s and grandmother’s second sight – the ability to see and interact with the invisible guardians, or chyerti. A battle is brewing, though, between the Bear and the Frost-Demon. Konstantin, a compelling and pious priest arrives in the village and introduces fear, a fear that feeds the battle and starves the chyerti. Vasya’s courage might be the only thing that can save the day.
I love fairy tales, but I’m often disappointed with fairy tale adaptations – they aren’t dreamlike enough, they aren’t real enough (I know, I am difficult to please), they rely on stereotypes, they don’t flesh out the characters, they get cutesy. I loved this telling. It is long and detailed, so you can sink your teeth into it, but not so detailed that it gets dry. The history and descriptions of medieval Russia are realistic, compelling, and interesting. The fantastical elements feel more like magical realism than fantasy, and it was all just well-balanced, well-written, and lovely. The battle is between good and evil…well, kind of. There’s nuance! Vasya is wonderful. In fact, I enjoyed reading about all the characters, the bad, the good, the supporting. While I kind of disliked Anna, Vasya’s stepmother, her backstory was established enough that I also pitied her and found myself wondering who she would have been if she’d had a different background, or if piety and modesty hadn’t been so important in her upbringing. Arden does a great job providing enough backstory, showing rather than telling, and establishing their personalities, that each character’s actions makes sense.
A final point in this book’s favor: the ending is satisfying.
I immediately bought the next book.