Magic in books often comes in a certain flavour. It has wonder, and awe, and power. It is sometimes threatening, it is sometimes homey, it is sometimes awe-inspiring. I'm not sure I've ever run into magic quite like this before, though.
This is magic that blends with real
life, so that when a man in uniform comes with no warning to take you
away from your life forever, it might be the secret police, or it might
be Koschei the Deathless. The person informing on you within your own
house might be the people you share the house with, or it might be the
domovoi in their own House Committee. The magic of life might be bloody
and cruel and harsh, but the magic of death is worse.
just pretty, affirming life is not easy. It's hard and it hurts and
causes pain and suffering and regret. It's worth fighting for, but it
isn't harmony and living side by side with nature.
watches as birds fall out of the trees three times and turn into
suitors for her sisters' hands. She waits to see if anyone will ever
show up for her. While she waits, the Russian state moves more families
into her house. Food becomes scarcer. She works in a factory. Her belief
in magic causes her to be shunned at school.
And then Koschei
shows up for her, the Tsar of Life, and takes her for his bride. And
inside the stories of Russian folklore, Marya Morevna has to undergo
Baba Yaga's tests to prove her worthiness as his bride, and then help
him fight the war against the Tsar of Death, in a Russia in which the
bodies are piling up so quickly that their enemy's ranks swell, moment
And in the end, the story she is living in takes its natural course, although not quite its natural course.
am coming to realize how much I love books where characters are strung
on a web of inevitability, pushed to decisions because there is no other
choice. I love the exquisite pain and tension of such moments, rejoice
when the characters find a way out of predestination, but enjoy it just
as much when inevitability leads to moments that I could not have
predicted but are, themselves, implicit in every moment that has come
I loved this book, loved the mingling of Russian stories
with Russian history, the feeling of horror as the twentieth century
takes hold, and the moments where it is clear that, although talking
about what Marya experienced was against the party line, and therefore
liable to be punished, life persists. It isn't pretty. But it persists.