Stars: 1.5 out of 5.
Well, this book was a big disappointment, to tell you the truth. I love fairy tales. I love modern retellings of said fairy tales, if they are well done. And that’s a big IF. Especially when it comes to retellings of Slavic tales, because they are near and dear to my heart. I grew up with them.
Unfortunately, we don’t really have a retelling here of anything. Honestly, if you had switched the Russian names of the main characters to typical English names, the story wouldn’t have changed much at all. Peppering the story with typical Russian or Ukrainian dishes or things doesn’t build an exotic atmosphere, like the author probably intended. It just served to irritate me.
The biggest problem with this book though is that it has no soul. Sure, the author can write pretty sentences, but that isn’t enough to make a good story. The characters feel flat and one-dimensional. Even Valentina, our protagonist whom we spend most of the book with, is extremely boring. I don’t know what makes her tick. I don’t know what her dreams and fears are.
The author tells us she wants to kill the Headmaster of the Bleak Academy because he took something from her, but what he took is described so vaguely, that I still don’t understand what the big deal is. So you are made of blood and bones, and you can hear your heart beat. Big deal.
Same goes for the story of her falling in love… with a man she never spoke to, just saw in passing and heard play the piano. Sure, the author tells us that, but there is not a shred of feeling of it in the actual story. There is no feeling in the story at all, to tell you the truth. It’s all very dry and soulless, if prettily written.
My other problem is that this world makes no sense. The author mentions that this was the land of eternal darkness until Valentina brought the sun to it and created the separation between night and day. Okay, I can get on board with that, but explain to me how this works? How do people grow crops in darkness? How do they survive without night and day? How do they travel about? Where do they get all the resources necessary to light their town? How do animals and trees survive there?
See, real fairy tales always have an inner logic and a rigid set of rules, no matter how fantastical those rules seem compared to our world. And characters, monsters, and even natural events follow those rules. In this book though, the rules are never explained, so the reasons behind why some things happen are very nebulous and often make no sense. If I can’t make sense of that’s happening, I won’t be invested in the story.
To summarize, don’t bother with this book if you like fairy tale retellings. There are much better books out there. Like Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia (sponsored link), for example.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.