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A Handful of Earth by Larisa Walk REVIEW

A Handful of Earth by Larisa Walk

Egalley thanks to Smith Publicity/bought

Synopsis from Goodreads
As the Mongol Horde draws near her tiny Russian principality, a spinster princess YAROSLAVA fears the worst. Her father is too old and ill to organize the defense. Yet her people would not follow her because she is a woman. The princes from the neighboring city-states and principalities won’t come to help because of the old feuds. Worse yet, Yaroslava receives a foretelling that she will betray her people.

Yelnik, the principality’s throne town, falls. Most of its defenders perish. Attractive women and craftsmen are taken into slavery. Yaroslava herself becomes a slave, destined to serve the Mongol khan as his concubine. In captivity she faces many enemies. Among them are: a Russian slave with a grudge; a fellow concubine that can kill with the power of the evil eye; her uncle whom Yaroslava mistakenly thinks she can trust. To survive and regain freedom for herself and the other slaves from Yelnik, she will break a religious taboo against using magic, commit treason and defeat vodyanoy, an elemental being that wishes to imprison her soul in its river for eternity.

 Amazon kindle US/UK ($0.99/£1.95)

* * *
This is a very interesting novel, and I've read it in one go or v odin prisest like Yaroslava would say. However there are some parts that dragged the quality of reading down, and I feel I need to point them out.

First of all throwing so many unknown Russian words merely separating them from the rest of the text in Italic did not help the readability of this book. It's written for an English speaking reader and the text should be able to flow with ease. There were many Russian words which had equivalent in English language but were left in the text to make them sound exotic. Even I struggled first few chapters, and I love Russian history and historical fantasy.

Having said all that if you manage to get through the first few chapters in Yelnik and get to the point where Yaroslava is in Tartar captivity, the story flows much faster and is much more entertaining. This is the best part of the book.

Yaroslava is a Russian princess, and here is the word which should have been changed to kniazhna, because prince or princess in Medieval Russia which had lots of small feudal city states, is a lord/lady of that city state, no more, and there were plenty of those.

Her principality is tiny, her father is very ill and doesn't have a son, so Yaroslava tries to be one. When Tartar invasion reaches her town, it doesn't stand a chance. Her father is dead and Yaroslava is a slave like the rest of her folks who managed to survive because Tartars proclaimed them useful as beautiful girls or craftsmen. They are all hauled to the place with the command centre of the general Batu Khan.

Yaroslava is a strong girl who's got magic in her blood. She can see essences of people - Fire, Wind, Water and Earth and manipulate them, but because it's been only 2-3 centuries since Russia was Christianised she is suppressing her gift out of fear of God's wrath. However it's her gift that will help her save her people and find freedom in the end.

It's certainly a fascinating mix of pagan Russian and Tartar mythology, and I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in different cultures. The plot is intense and fast-paced. The brutality of the era is not watered down, and I give the author high points for that.

I did however have problems with the lack of characterisation. All the secondary characters are barely there. Batu Khan is a bewildering love interest which seemed to inspire love and passion in Yaroslava overnight after a few walks and talks. I found that highly questionable. The rest of the characters had very little personality in them.

 I think the book needs work done at making it stronger and making it more marketable. The cover screams classic literature, where it should be a girl standing in a vast steppe in Mongolian cloths. The girl on the cover is not Yaroslava at all. The plot itself needs good explanation of what was happening in Russia and its structure at a time, because this is a good standard practice in fantasy books, and it helps the reader immensely. At last, the words in Italic should be banished. Replace them or make them part of the normal font, but they distract and feel unnecessary to the story.

Despite all that I loved it, bought my own copy and really hope there will be book #2 about Yaroslava's adventures.

* * *
С удовольствием прочитала это русское фэнтэзи, и очень надеюсь, что таких книг будет написано больше.

Конечно, в книге много проблем. Много выделенных слов на русском, под которые не был подобран эквивалент на английском. Иногда мне казалось, что я читала Горсть Земли на русском, настолько она была руссифицирована, что не очень хорошо для английского читателя, который бы спотыкался на тексте через каждой десятое слово.

В принципе, как только сюжет отходит от города Ельника, княжества Ярославы, слог выравнивается и читать книгу становится гораздо легче.

Ярослава попадает в плен к татарам, её выбирают как потенциальную невольницу Бату-хана и отправляет к нему. Она девушка умная и интересная и старается чем сможет помочь своим соплеменникам, однако отказывается лечь в постель к хану и её приставляют к тяжёлой физической работе, пока Бату-хан в разговоре с ней не выясняет, что она училась у своего отца управять княжеством и приставляет её к себе советником по русским делам и дипломатии.

Ярослава также обладает небольшим магическим даром. Она видит элементы людей - Воду, Огонь, Ветер и Землю и может ими управлять. Однако будучи доброй христианкой пытается этого не делать. Вот только именно её магия поможет ей спасти свой народ под конец.

Книга вышла очень интересная, полная мифологии и фактов о татарах, которых я и не знала, вот только помимо самой Ярославы остальные характеры не развиваются, и её любовный интерес к хану вспыхивает ниоткуда, и в него совершенно не верится.

Если подчистить текст и поменять обложку на более привлекательную и соответствующую фэнтэзийному духу книги (в стиле Марии Снайдер или Кристин Кашор), то книга будет замечательно продаваться, что позволит  мне надеяться на продолжение истории.



Cayce said...

I know that your blog is more "dark" than "lovely", but I still wanted to give you this:

(You have been awarded the One Lovely Blog Award!:)

Happy Tuesday!

Petra said...

"The cover screams classic literature, where it should be a girl standing in a vast steppe in Mongolian cloths."
Totally agree, that would be a great cover for this book! :)

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