I received a copy of “White Raven: The Sword of the Northern Ancestors” by Irina Lopatina through TLC Book Tours. As many of you know, I’m a bit obsessed with Russian history/culture/etc., so when Trish asked me if I’d like to participate in a blog tour of a fantasy novel written by a Siberian author, I was thrilled to accept. I read a lot of fantasy by American and British authors, so it’s nice to branch out periodically and expand my horizons.
Vraigo is a prince in the kingdom of Areya. The Duke is annoyed that Vraigo spends his time frolicking in the Eternal Forest with druids and cute fuzzy magical creatures rather than fighting to defend the kingdom. Vraigo doesn’t see it as cowardice; he just has different priorities than his family. However, Areya is in big trouble. Monsters begin pouring into the kingdom from a parallel world, and the only force capable of stopping them is a magical sword named Urart. When Urart is stolen, Vraigo finds himself on a quest to return the sword. This quest takes him to the 21st century, where he must face new challenges for which he is utterly unprepared.
Here’s a brief sample from the start of Vraigo’s adventures:
The comb-topped moving head of the cock was attached to the strong body of a toad with the long tail of a serpent that the creature continuously swept upon the ground. The beast immediately turned to Vraigo, opening his strong beak and screaming, seeking revenge on the small human who had disturbed it. At the last possible second, the prince managed to throw his shirt onto the creature, hiding its dead black eyes, and straightaway showed his heels going in the opposite direction. He was running slapdash, scaring forest-living creatures with his screams of fear.
“Basilisk!” shouted Vraigo. “There’s a basilisk!”
The story itself is relatively predictable and bears few surprises. If you’ve read any fantasy or adventure stories, you already know how it’s going to end and what’s going to happen. The back cover of the book tells you the sword is going to get stolen, but that doesn’t actually happen until about halfway through the book. The predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because Lopatina injects her own ideas into a rather traditional epic fantasy story. The first half of the story is pretty much by the book, but the introduction of a fantasy character into the 21st century was a lot of fun. I did wish that it had happened sooner, because the time travel parts were definitely the best.
One of the things that was really neat about this book were the illustrations by Igor Adasikov. Lopatina uses Russian folklore as the inspiration behind the world of Areya, and so the kingdom is threatened by an evil koshei, and Vraigo will encounter creatures like the yaga, the rusalka, and the drevalyanka. Since the author’s interpretations of Russian folklore varied a bit from tradition (for example, a rusalka is traditionally a mermaid, but here it was a winged creature with the face of a woman), the illustrations in the glossary help readers to better picture the creatures that she’s talking about. There’s also an illustration at the beginning of each chapter, and the artwork complements the story rather nicely. Normally when I’m reviewing a book I don’t mention the illustrations. These ones stood out from the crowd, and I was quite impressed.
The magic system here also intrigued me. Magic is a natural quality that many people possess. Some people are Endowed with magic, and others aren’t. The source of all magic (including for magical creatures like druids or werewolves) is the Magic Veil, which is present during Vraigo’s time in Areya but not in the modern-day world. This means that magical creatures still exist now, but they can’t realize the full extent of their powers. A werewolf can be a part of a street gang and an innocent-looking kitty could really be a piksha. I thought that this was an interesting way of reconciling the magic present in the past with today’s reality while still maintaining a coherent worldview.
One other thing to note is that the book doesn’t end, but rather seems to lead directly into a sequel. It does end at a logical point in the story, but we’re still left hanging a bit more than I’d like.
Overall, I’d say that “White Raven” is an enjoyable albeit vaguely stereotypical fantasy story with a distinctly Russian twist. I had a couple problems with the translation, but that’s most likely because I was reading an uncorrected proof, and I’m assuming that the finished version will have been tightened quite a bit. (Side note: I want a pet drevalyanka. If it’s a cute fuzzy magical creature, that means I can’t be allergic to it, right? Cause it’s magic. Yep.)
The publishers at Light Messages also wanted me to mention that they have some promotions going on during this blog tour (for 14 days after this post). Orders placed through the Light Messages site will be $12.00 per book instead of $16.95, and folks will also receive a personalized signed post card from author Irina Lopatina. Postcards feature landscapes from Altai, Siberia––the inspiration for White Raven’s Kingdom of Areya. If readers submit photos of themselves with their copies (or e-copies) of the books, then Irina will send them a personalized, signed book plate for the front of their book. Go here and use the Contact link to submit the photo.