Mistress of the Solstice by Anna Kashina

Received from NetGalley for review. 

Mistress of the Solstice is quite unlike anything I have ever read before, and I was in equal parts disgusted and fascinated as I read it; I still can’t decide if I truly enjoyed it or simply got swept up in Marya and Ivan’s bizarre tale. Figuring out my thoughts has proven to be rather more difficult than I’m used to, but I can’t deny that I devoured this book in one sitting and had no real desire to stop reading it until I reached the end; in many ways it weaved that rare magic of books, it hooked me and it held me and I could not stop reading until I found out everything that was going to happen.

The novel is a twist on Russian myth and fairy tale and I admit I had to Wiki most of the mythical characters to find out who they were. I expected to delve into a rich fantasy world when I started reading it, and found myself in a strange, twisted and sexual fairy tale; I won’t go into detail about this, but I will say that I found aspects of this book quite disturbing, notably the character of tsar Kashchey and his strange hold over his daughter, the Mistress of the Solstice herself, Marya. It is dark and disturbing, but intriguing and engaging at the same time; I just can’t quite figure out how I feel, especially as the first few pages made me want to throw my kindle at the wall.

I found the characters oddly endearing. Although it took me quite a while to get hooked by this book, I found that I genuinely cared about some of the characters, even some of the minor ones (let’s face it, it’s not every day you sympathise with Baba Yaga). Marya and Ivan are unexpected heroes, not quite conforming to what you would expect from an unfeeling priestess and an unlucky-in-life son of some distant tsar. Marya is such a complex blend of unfeeling badass and simpering, dutiful daughter that I can’t decide how I feel about her; she is at times infuriating for following her fathers every word and awe inspiring for unabashedly taking what she desires from men and moving on without a second thought. I found myself falling for Ivan as I read; he seemed to be transported into the novel from nowhere to begin with and somehow became part of it without me even realising it, with his humble and intelligent ways. Kashina has crafted the characters in such a way that they get under your skin in the most unexpected ways, just like the story itself.

A strange magic is at work in Mistress of the Solstice, one that sucks you in and leaves you feeling both satisfied and wanting something else. I think I may have just read the strangest love story ever told.

Read: January 18th 2014

3/5 stars

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