Title: Vita Nostra
Authors: Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Translator: Julia Meitov Hersey
Page Count: 404
Keywords: Magic, Science, Russia
Kid Appropriate: Probably not
Oh lordy, I loved this book a million times more than I had expected!
For some background, this is not a new book but the English translation and American release of Vita Nostra is new as of November 2018. The authors are a couple originally from Ukraine and this book was published in Russian around 2013. From my understanding, this is a series…and I have high hopes that the other books will be translated as well if that is true!
First, I need to address that this is in no way like The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. If that is what you expect going into this one you will be incredibly disappointed. Arden writes a great fantasy novel that pulls more from the medieval culture of Russia and folklore prevalent in the countryside. You can read my full review for that book here. Marina and Sergey are not writing such a book. Sasha is a girl in modern Eastern Europe and you will experience glimpses of what life is like in post-Soviet culture. As long as you go in expecting that rather than the fairytale story of Arden’s creation then you will be just fine.
The book begins in a slow and somewhat confusing way, mirroring the summer vacation mood that Sasha and her mother are experiencing as well as the fear that Sasha faces with this peculiar man following her about. This feeling of the story following the way that Sasha is feeling and morphing throughout the story is perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the writing.
I took the advice of one reviewer while I was reading and focused more on the concept of liminal spaces (a term anyone that has ever studied Russian culture is incredibly familiar with). For this book that is the space between being a child and an adult. That is what this story is about at its very root, becoming who you are meant to be. Because the characters are college age and making this transition I would say that this book falls closer to being a New Adult fantasy rather than a YA or adult fantasy. Sex is a frequent conversation but I do not recall any detailed scenes of smut.
With the focus on Sasha’s transformation and the writing following fairly closely with her emotions and stages of development in her studies, the book is incredibly addictive and you begin to feel as if the book has bewitched you! By the end of the book, I felt like Sasha, fixated on the story and unable to look away.
If you are looking for a post-Soviet, addictive, dark twist on the typical magic school setting then I highly recommend giving this one a go!
Please note, if you are sensitive to content relating to sexual coercion or prostitution that it is a small part of this story.
If you want to see my spoiler-free video review:
About the Author of Adventures In Obsessive Reading
Ms. Winkle is an author and book blogger. Bleeding Heart is the first installment in her Guardian Chronicles series and her first novel. She has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Montana, an MA in International Security from the University of Arizona. When she isn’t studying she can usually be found with a dog and a book.