5 Amazing YA Russian Fantasy Books

Reading is obviously the best thing ever for a myriad of reasons, but one thing I particularly love about it is: the ability to travel without leaving your comfy reading nook. So what could be better than nestling down with some books inspired by other countries, mythologies and cultures? I particularly adore epic fantasy with Russian influences! Russia is such an amazing country, with a complex and interesting history. Just add in a bit of magic. A dollop of teenage heroes saving the day. A smidge of adventure. And you’re sure to have a novel that will win admiration!

Today I’m listing 5 amazing Young Adult fantasy books with Russian influences!


 

SHADOW AND BONE

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BUY HERE

This is one of my most favourite epic fantasy series ever! And for a bonus? It’s set in the country of Ravka which has decidedly glorious Russian influences. It’s all about the Grisha, who are magicians employed by the throne, and they’re separated into warriors or scientists or artists or healers. The story follows Alina who’s just discovered she is a Grisha and is being trained for battle.

It has action and adventure and several darkly villainous characters you might accidentally fall in love with while they do evil to do “good” in their opinions.

 

EGG AND SPOON

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This is by the famous author of the novel Wicked! It gloriously mixes many Russian folklores into this complex tale centring about Baba Yaga, the infamous witch. It stars a very poor girl, Elena, who’s starving, and accidentally gets caught up with a noble family on a train and swaps places with their rich daughter. In an effort to see the Tsar and help her brother who’s been stolen off to war, Elena tries to play the part of rich noble…and fails spectacularly. While Eketerina is off having perilous adventures enlisting the devious with Baba Yaga to help her get home.

Baba Yaga’s sass is basically the greatest thing you’ll ever read. It’s quite a long and slow novel, but so worth it for the magical and creative tale!

 

VASSA IN THE NIGHT

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This one is a little different to the others, because while it is still fantasy, it’s modern fantasy! It’s set in present-day-Brooklyn in the USA where the city suddenly is losing daylight. The nights are getting longer and it’s a bit of a problem. It also features a convenience store with the fearsome Babs Yagg who owns it and also cuts off shoplifter’s heads and displays them in the windows. A girl named Vassa and her magical doll end up tricked into Babs Yagg’s servitude. But leaving alive will be an interesting challenge.

This book is absolutely bizarre! In the best possible way! It captures the heart of so many vibrant folk tales, gives them a modern twist, and adds in magical realism elements that will thrill and disturb.

 

THE WOLF WILDER

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This is a gorgeously written tale about a girl who raises wolves in the woods with her mother. It’s popular for the rich to keep wolves as pets, but when they tire of them, the wolves get “released” into the wild…only to die because they can’t take care of themselves. Feo trains them to be wild again. Only when the army comes to call and disturbs her life, she ends up begin swept up in the revolution instead. This book is really beautiful and features lovely illustrations!

 

THE CROWN’S GAME

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BUY HERE

This is a historical based Russian fantasy, set in the time of the Tsars. But just add in a little magic, okay? It features two enchanters, Nikolai and Vika, who must compete in a challenge to become the Tsar’s own enchanter. And there can only be one. With the stakes so high it’s impossible to put the book down! The magic is beautiful and imaginative and features the two enchanters creating amazing and incredible things as they try to display who’s more powerful while avoiding falling in love. It also features a rambunctious prince and the casual destruction of everything you love.

And even better: The sequel and stunning conclusion, The Crown’s Fate, is coming out in May! So this is a perfect time to start this series.

Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

9781781090480I must admit to slight reservations before reading this book. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was one of my favourite books of 2013, narrowly missing out on being my book of the year (I had to do a re-read of my top two to split them). What had me hesitant was that his follow up book was short stories. I am not completely adverse to short stories but they are not my favourite form of writing. I can also be quite cynical and I was a bit suspicious about following up a spectacular debut novel with a collection of short stories. Boy, was I wrong!!!!

Anthony Marra has written a worthy follow up to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that will once again make you laugh, make you learn and break your heart. Through interconnected stories Marra takes us from Leningrad in 1937 through to St Petersburg in the modern day exploring life in the Soviet Union and modern day Russia. Full of dark humour Marra explores life under a totalitarian regime and the impact as that regime slowly disappears. He shows how people etch out their part in it and learn to survive, or not. At it’s heart it is a story about family and how no matter how hard others try and erase it, it is always there, enduring.

Each story told is self-contained and is writing of the highest order. There is no way to pick a favourite story, they all stand out. We begin with a Soviet censor in 1937 whose job it is to erase the pictures of those who have been denounced by Stalin’s purges. We then follow the granddaughter of a famous ballet dancer, who was denounced, erased by the censor and sent to an Arctic mining town. As the Soviet Union collapses, and capitalism comes to the new Russia, the ballet dancer’s granddaughter is given the opportunity to escape the exiled existence her family has been sentenced to, but at a cost. We meet a Russian soldier conscripted to Chechnya and later taken prisoner. We meet an art museum curator in Grozny trying to rebuild after two wars. And we meet a father and son in St Petersburg, each of whom are looking for answers for questions they can’t or won’t ask. Anthony Marra ties all these lives together in a beautiful and poignant way with writing that grabs you from the opening page all the way through to the ending, breaking your heart numerous times along the way.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena announced Anthony Marra as an exceptional talent to watch. His new book book confirms it. This is a writer you are not only going to hear a lot about right now but for many, many years to come.

Buy the book here…

Review – All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon

9780241003312One of my favourite books of 2013 was A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra so when he reviewed this book in the New York Times I took notice.

Set in Russia in 1986 the book follows the events surrounding the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl. The story doesn’t deal with the accident directly but instead on what it means for four characters who are caught up in the inescapable events in different ways.

We follow a gifted surgeon, Grigory, who is sent to the site of the accident to help coordinate efforts and his ex-wife, Maria, who is trying to survive the breakdown of their marriage. We also follow two young boys. Yevgeni, Maria’s nephew, is a 9-year-old piano prodigy who is trying to come to terms with his gifts amongst a miserable existence in a Moscow slum. And Artyom who lives on a farm inside the Chernobyl hotzone. Whose whole life is literally evaporated piece by piece.

Central to the novel though is the end of the Soviet Union. The Chernobyl Meltdown is the tipping point for the end of the empire. No safety or evacuation plans were in place. Nor was there adequate medical aid on hand as to prepare for an accident was to admit weakness in the Soviet regime. The accident and the Soviet Union’s response was the catalyst for the people of the Soviet Union to stop believing in the regime. Three years later the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that the Soviet Union was no more.

Through his characters Darragh McKeon explores the many impacts this has on individual lives. The humanity that some try to cling to and the utter disregard the Soviet regime has for human life. What makes this novel even more relevant and poignant today is the fact that Chernobyl is situated in Ukraine (there is even references to a Korean Commercial Airline that Russia shot down three years before). A moving novel that gives a unique insight into a catastrophic event that still reverberates in the world today.

Buy the book here…

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back.

9781849838115Review – Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back. Still cantankerous and stubborn and able to not only sniff out trouble but completely ensconce yourself in it. One of the most endearing characters in crime fiction returns in the best Arkady Renko novel since Wolves Eat Dogs.

We first met Arkady Renko in 1981 and as we have followed his journey we have followed that of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The latest novel takes place in a Russia where corruption is not only in full swing, it is par for the course. Tatiana Petrovna is an investigative journalist who, like our hero, won’t just let the status quo stand without questioning. However modern-day Russia has no tolerance for journalists and Tatiana soon meets a nasty end.

Her death is ruled suicide but Arkady senses that the truth isn’t being told. However he doesn’t have a case until Tatiana’s body goes missing from the morgue. His digging leads him through various crime syndicates to the forgotten port of Kaliningrad. Once the German city Konigsberg, then a city with no name during the Cold War and home to lucrative Amber mine. They key to everything is a translator’s notebook, written in a code only one person knows, whose body has also recently turned up.

Fans of Arkady Renko will be well pleased. I have no idea how old the weathered and beaten old detective is but there is plenty of life in him yet and plenty of trouble for him to find and stir up.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Banafsheh Serov, author of The Russian Tapestry

 

Banafsheh SerovBanafsheh Serov, author of The Russian Tapestry

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Russian Tapestry is a tale of love and turmoil based on the true story of my husband’s grandparents, a romance that spans the years of the Great War and the Russian revolution, and is set in the ballrooms of St Petersburg, the streets of the rioting city, and the POW camps.

9780733629860At the start of the war, Alexis Serov is a commander in the Tsar’s Army and Marie Kulbas, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is a Law student in Petrograd. Their story and eventual love affair is a tapestry of family and Russian history, a weaving of truth and imagination, fact and fiction.
I first became interested in the story of Marie and Alexei when I was dating my now husband. Visiting his house, I saw a painting of Alexei in his dress uniform, wearing a breast full of medals. As a long-time lover of Russian literature,  I started imagining the glittering world they inhabited, their first meeting and love affair.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in London and spent my childhood years in Teheran. My family fled Iran in ’82 in the midst of Iran/Iraq war to Turkey, where we were caught and spent time in a detention centre while our refugee status was decided. We later immigrated to Australia that same year, arriving in Sydney in August ’82 where we’ve been living ever since.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Growing up I had grand notions of joining the corporate world after graduating from Uni. I loved marketing and economics (still do) and saw myself climbing the executive ladder. It was only whilst doing a post-grad degree at Macquarie Uni did it dawn on me that I’m not suited to working in a corporation. The thought of writing did not come to me until much later in life.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I think I’m still growing into my craft and wouldn’t want to think that my best is already behind me. Hopefully I’ll continue to improve with every book.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

We have a small house with no spare room/ space that I can turn into a office. I write on my dining table (I have a picture of it on my Facebook). Thankfully its a fairly long table which allows me to easily spread my papers and books. Everything is cleared off in the evenings and filed away in special baskets slotted into my bookshelf.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a variety of books, but I have a particular soft spot for Australian authors. I’ve just finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and have started reading The Asylum by John Harwood.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The first book I remember reading on my own was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I stayed up all night to finish it. I still remember the thrill of wanting to know what’s going to happen next and not being able to fall sleep until I find
out.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I quite like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. She is sassy, resourceful and brave. I wouldn’t however waste my breath on Ashley, instead I’d be gunning for Rhett Butler from the very beginning.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I run, practice Yoga, and do a bit of belly dancing, but not professionally. What is your favourite food and favourite drink?: I love Persian Cuisine. If you haven’t tried it already, do yourself a favour and do so. As for drinks, after a particularly hard day, nothing beats vodka with freshly squeezed lime juice.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I adore Geraldine Brooks. Year of Wonders literally took my breath away and since then, I’ve read all her books. I love her skill in seamlessly weaving history (often choosing real life characters) into her fiction. Vikram Seth is another one of my heroes as is Tolstoy and Hugo for their sheer ability to write epic novels.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I’m not particularly worried about books disappearing. Book lovers (and I include myself amongst them) love owning physical books. From the weight of it in our hands, to the smell of the ink on the page, it adds to the overall experience and enjoyment of reading a book. Smart phones and tablets are probably the biggest challenge to people’s reading habits. With entertainment, social media and games readily available at their fingertips, it’s easy to get distracted and neglect time spent reading.

Website URL: banafshehserov.com
Facebook Page URL: facebook.com/BanafshehSerov
Twitter URL: @B_Serov

Book Review – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” – definition of life in a Russian medical dictionary

9781781090060If you ever doubted the power of fiction then this is the novel to reaffirm your belief. If you already know how powerful fiction can be, prepared to be blown away. In the tradition of The Kite Runner, Anthony Marra tells a story of love and war, horror and humour, the absurd and the profound that will make you laugh out loud and feel grief in the pit of your stomach.

One of the things (apart from the fantastic storytelling) that made The Kite Runner such a huge success was that it opened readers in The West’s eyes to a country that we had all ignored for decades but in the wake of 9/11 now had to confront. Khaled Hosseini gave us a story of a father and son, forced to flee their country after it was invaded and what it was like to return home decades later after the Taliban had taken control. He followed this up with A Thousand Splendid Suns which gave us the story of an Afghan woman who didn’t leave and we live through the horrors of life under the Taliban. Anthony Marra does something equally as powerful with the wars in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004. And after recent events in Boston this already powerful and poignant story takes on much more meaning and significance

Like Afghanistan my knowledge of Chechnya was sorely lacking. I was completely ignorant. I knew there had been a brutal war for independence from Russia there in the 1990s. I knew that there had been terrorist attacks in Russia by Chechen militants.I didn’t know there had been two separate wars, I thought it had been one long war. I did know Chechens were largely Muslim and that Russia had used the same rhetoric the US had to invade Iraq and Afghanistan to justify increasing their military campaign. But this was just stuff I’d gleaned from snippets on television news and short snippets in newspapers. I had no real understanding, no comprehension, no humanity. This novel changes all that.

The novel centres on a small Chechen village and four of its residents as well as a doctor at a nearby hospital. They have all lost something in the wars. They are all clinging to something else. A piece of hope, real and imagined. They are all trying to find a way to survive. They are not innocent but nor are they guilty. They are just trying to live a life cruelly interrupted by bombs, mortars and landmines. Where friends, colleagues, family members can simply disappear overnight. As you learn more about each character the depth of the tragedy of war is exposed; piece by piece, brick by brick, scar by scar.

I was completely immersed in this novel and its characters and literally balled my eyes out at the end. Anthony Marra’s novel does more than just put a human face on a human tragedy, he puts the tragedy inside you. You fell the pain and misery deep inside your bones but also the underlying power humanity. It’s uncrushable joy and hope and determination.

I never thought I could read a book that could surpass the absurdity of war captured by David Benioff’s City Of Thieves. Or the power of story and family captured by Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. Or the humanity captured by Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. But that is exactly what A Constellation of Vital Phenomena does. This is a book I will never forget.

Buy the book here…