Mistress of the Solstice
Release Date: September 5, 2013
Release Date: September 5, 2013
THE DARK ESSENCE OF RUSSIAN MYTH
As the head priestess of the ancient Solstice cult, Marya must sacrifice a virgin every year. She copes with this gruesome duty by assuming a mask of cold detachment, as her father—the evil tzar Kashchey—devours the maidens' souls to maintain his youth and power. It is his power alone that keeps Marya’s kingdom safe from all enemies—or so she was raised to believe.
When Ivan arrives on a quest to stop the virgin sacrifices, Marya throws all her magic against him. To maintain her life—and that of her father—she must destroy Ivan before he completes his quest. But can she find it in her heart to do so?
Baba Yaga, Leshy, Vodyanoi, and the ancient animal deities come alive in this beautifully crafted romantic story that will take you into the authentic world of Russian fairy tales—with a dark, sensual twist.
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Digital review copy provided by Dragonwell Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for fair and honest review.
What a mess! I think I picked this book up and kept reading against my better judgment, sincerely hoping it will get better. The premise sounded intriguing enough to get me curious but the execution left a lot to be desired. In addition, I cringed at the sexualization of the traditional Russian folklore characters; there was something fundamentally wrong with this picture. I’m not a prude but I grew up reading and watching these characters come to life and they are firmly cemented within my childhood and this is definitely not the way I’d like to perceive them. Nonetheless, stubborn as I am I kept reading, hoping for redemption that never came.
Mistress of Solstice takes on a darker side of classic Russian folklore tales, at its premise – the Solstice cult, a twisted take on the Ivan Kupalo festival marking the Summer Solstice. Marya is the daughter of Tzar Kashchey who is an archetypical male antagonist. She is the priestess of the cult and is tasked with performing the virgin sacrifice each year which helps maintain Kashchey’s youth and power, and by extension provide seeming peace and protection for their kingdom, or so Marya is made to believe [she is never bothered by or questions what she is told].
She is a renowned beauty throughout the kingdom and been brought up into the role of the priestess, taught to forego any notion of love from young age, making her narcissistic and heartless. I couldn’t bring myself to like her, even with later revelations. As part of the story is told from her first person point of view, it was still hard to find any redeeming qualities – she was a passive character. First, an instrument of her father’s evil game, then prized spoils, a pawn in the big scheme of things.
Ivan – our hero, is the youngest son of the Tzar from another kingdom, dubbed the fool but of course, he is far from such, he is simply kind and virtuous to a fault. Carefully guided by the mysterious Primal Spirit - Wolf, Ivan begins his quest that will end Kashchey’s rule. But as tradition demands his quest will test his skills. He will face many folklore characters along the way, including Leshy, Raven and Baba Yaga [who are probably the only truly interesting and likable characters in the novel], all of whom will try to thwart his attempts. At the end, he will have to choose: listen to his heart or follow Wolf, and face the consequences of his choice, whether death or triumph.
Despite Ivan’s almost innocent nature and undertaking of such an honorable quest, his character still fell flat. There was very little insight and development, and it was hard to see him more than just another pawn in the game. While the folklore characters certainly had more dimension, if only for the inherent development of their characters through known myth and legends, their parts were only supportive and couldn’t move the story solely along.
Aside the “could-be” interesting and perhaps even unique premise, this book was poorly executed, the story jumping around without providing much in a way of explanation as to the characters’ actions. Ultimately I was left frustrated and disappointed and probably unlikely to pick up another novel by this author.
As a palate cleanser, I leave you with a song from a proper Russian folklore-based cartoon - The Flying Ship (Летучий Корабль).