Fantasy / Folklore
In a medieval-ish Russian setting, Vasya is the daughter her mother most wanted, and the one who ultimately killed her. Growing up half wild at the edge of a deep forest, Vasya’s father eventually decides that he should remarry so that Vasya can have a mother. However, her new stepmother is city-bred and zealously religious. She forbids her household or the villagers from practicing the traditional rituals of honoring the spirits of the hearth, forest, and meadows which will protect their homes. Vasya knows this is wrong and is afraid, and she is right to fear. The crops and animals start dying, drought comes, and horrifying creatures straight out of Vasya’s nurse’s fairy tales begin walking the night.
Her stepmother, convinced that Vasya is the cause of all the troubles, is determined that Vasya will either marry or go to a convent by midwinter. Vasya has to rely on her own talents, which she has kept hidden out of fear of being killed as a witch, to save her family and village.
“Vasilisa the Fair” is one of my favorite Russian fairy tales, and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is another of my favorites. This novel makes me think of both of these stories, drawing heavily from myth and folklore from a wide range of cultures. The setting is brutal and atmospheric - I got cold listening to parts of this! But I loved imagining the way the houses were set up and was curious about the stoves the family slept on. I had to look it up and learned a lot about the Russian oven! I loved the characters of the home, the house spirits and the men and women and the horses. Such horses! And Vasya is a tremendous character, brave and honest. I can’t wait to see what Arden comes up with for her next novel, which is apparently set in the same world.
My only complaint is that the audio narration was a tad slow at times. But in general, I enjoyed listening to this on audiobook because I am unfamiliar with the Russian language. I would have been unable to pronounce the words correctly, even in my head, which might have spoiled the reading experience. I appreciated hearing the words spoken aloud for me, so the audio version is highly recommended.
© Kristen McQuinn