– goodreads –
I have had this book lying on my shelf since February – I even preordered it. I have no idea why it took me nearly a year to get around to it, because it turned out to be wonderful. Even gave me a bit of a book high, a rare and precious thing.
“I do not know what you should choose. Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.”
I have a weakness for stories about women rebelling against gender norms and doing their thing whatever it takes – “dresses up as a boy and runs off on an adventure” may be an old trope, but I love it regardless. And that’s exactly what Vasya does. Unwilling to settle down or marry, she runs away from Lesnaya Zemlya dressed as a boy, wanting to see the world instead. After saving a few peasant girls from bandits, she runs into her brother Sasha, who doesn’t approve of her choices, but is willing to go along with the deception, even if it means lying to his friend, the Grand Prince of Moscow.
I kind of wish the first part of the book was longer, that there was more of Vasya travelling. The second part, which is set in Moscow was good as well, I simply liked the first one more and hope book 3 will be more on the travel- and adventure-heavy side.
Still. It hits the folktale-ish atmosphere perfectly and the prose is, as in the first book, fantastic. Vasya is one of the favourite characters I’ve recently encountered, too. She’s headstrong and fiercely independent, and while it often gets her in trouble, confident characters are fun to read about (yeah, it’s a bit of a wish-fulfillment story for me, but so what?). I really liked how the other characters’ attitudes reflected their society – it could be annoying at points, but felt very realistic.
The worldbuilding is wonderful and seems very well-researched. While I’m the wrong kind of Slav to feel fully represented by this book and recognise the references and easter eggs (Jenia of The Fantasy Inn did a great job pointing them out at the bottom of her review here), I could recognise many of the words used, or their roots. For someone who cannot, it might be frustrating and I can’t tell if it’s possible to tell meaning from context or if a peek at the glossary is required.
Recommended to: those looking for wintry folktales or characters who defy gender norms
Not recommended to: if the inclusion of foreign (here Russian) terms bothers you