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Vita Nostra

(Метаморфозы #1)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  5,680 ratings  ·  1,062 reviews
The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Ukrainian novel—a brilliant dark fantasy with "the potential to be a modern classic" (Lev Grossman), combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief . . .

While vacationing at the beach with her moth
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published November 1st 2018 by Harper Voyager (first published 2007)
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Ilya She turns out to be "the word" used by God to create new worlds as in "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"…moreShe turns out to be "the word" used by God to create new worlds as in "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (partially quoted in the very end of the book). She is that most important of all words and her task is to create a new world right at the exam.

Farit on the other hand turns out to be the opposite force - the Death or the Devil. Recall that earlier he is called "grammatical rule" and that Sasha says that it's impossible to leave in the world where he exists. He also proposed her to skip the exam (the proposition never obtained by any other student according to his own words) - probably the last temptation.

She is also the "Good News (of salvation)" proclaiming the end of Death.

This is another reason for Farit to try to turn her away from her path before exam. At the same time he is the only one who really knows who she is and who is capable of acting as examiner for her and provide her with proper directions at the end.

After debating the very idea of creation poisoned by fear of death from the start (which is a Gnostic theme popular in "Fourth Wave" of Russian sci-fi) and a major struggle she still chooses to act and she sounds and creates a completely new world, probably free of fear and free of death.

She is now in full control and visits her mother and her younger brother in a form of a spirit, relieving them from fear and illness.(less)
Anna Richey From what I understand, the English translation was first released a couple years ago but only this year was released by a professional publisher. I h…moreFrom what I understand, the English translation was first released a couple years ago but only this year was released by a professional publisher. I hope English translations of #2 & 3 come out soon!! I really enjoyed #1.(less)

Community Reviews

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Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is like Harry Potter, but if it was written by Kafka.
At the start of this novel, 16-year-old Sasha Samokhina is on a seaside vacation with her mother, where after a few days she finds herself stalked by a mysterious man with pale skin and dark glasses. She is eventually confronted by this stranger, who entreats Sasha to wake up at 4 am every morning, go to the beach, take off all her clothes, and swim to a buoy and back. She reluctantly agrees to this strange task, and as soon as she's back on shore that first morning, she starts to vomit gold coi ...more
Nenia ⚔️ Queen of Villainy ⚔️ Campbell

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I've been wanting to read VITA NOSTRA ever since the English translation was released and I heard about the dark magic school premise. This novel is part of a trilogy that was originally published in Ukraine, and it's one of the strangest, most fascinating, most inevitable books I have ever read. It actually reminds me a lot of R. Lee Smith's book, SCHOLOMANCE. The pacing is very slow and you just have to bask and immerse yourself in the
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tatiana by: Barnes and Noble sci-fi blog
Who in the world wrote this book's blurb, comparing "Vita Nostra" to, of all things, Katherine Arden’s "The Bear and the Nightingale"? I know they both are set in Russia, but what do they really have in common? Snow? Don't be fooled, and if you want to pick up "Vita Nostra" because you liked "The Bear and the Nightingale," just don't, ok? If you need another fix of Russian bear, fur hats and balalaikas nonsense, Leigh Bardugo can supply those. "Vita Nostra" was written by Russian authors, about ...more
ELLIAS (elliasreads)
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There are concepts that cannot be imagined but can be named. Having received a name, they change, they flow into a different entity, and cease to correspond to the name, and then they can be given another, different name, and this process— the spellbinding process of creation— is indefinite: this is the word that names it, and this is the word that signifies. A concept as an organism, and text as the universe.

I don't think there's a word in this entire universe that can be spoken, th
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How is this baffling, esoteric, paranormal weirdness also the most accurate depiction of higher education I've ever read?
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, fantasy, loved-it
Sometimes a book is so custom-made for me that I am unsure whether I can reasonably recommend it to anyone or if the reading experience was incredible just because the book hit all my favourite things. This is one of those times. Combining some of my greatest loves in fiction: dark fantasy, inspired by Russian literature, set in the middle of nowhere with plenty of snow, combining boarding school tropes with unconventional storytelling, this book was everything to me.

This book follows Sasha, who
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Verbs in the imperative mood, Russian-speaking Potter fans, Tolstoy-loving fantasy fans
This is a most unusual novel, especially for Western readers. It's strange and thoughtful and dark, full of psychological twists and turns, metaphysical tangents, and the desperately humorous shenanigans of young adults carrying on at a grim Russian boarding school that is turning them all into... what, they do not exactly know.

I described Marina and Sergey Dyachenko's novel The Scar as "swords & sorcery if written by Fyodor Dostoevsky." I don't think I'm stretching the Russian-lit analogy too m
Spencer Orey
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Weird in the best of ways, a bit scary, and bizarrely magical, this book somehow captures the experience of what happens to you in college better than anything else I know.

It's cliche to say that fantasy can deal with big issues better than standard fiction, but this one really gets at the experience of your world getting shifted around by education. And then it adds some big weird things on top that somehow enhance the message. I haven't read anything quite like it since Lev Grossman's Magician
Nov 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I have SUCH conflicting thoughts about this book because it was crazy and interesting and groundbreaking and suspenseful and fucking weird and lacking antagonists and personality and structure and chapter breaks but it's so intriguing and different and beautiful and gross and almost too smart and then maybe not smart at all and enthralling and annoying and I want to clutch it to my chest and throw it at the wall at the same time AHAGAHSGAHSDGASGASDGJASHDGASGH
Cristina Monica
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book will fuck with your mind pretty badly and you will love it.
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Vita Nostra is a dark and deeply provocative novel about psychological and metaphysical transformation that defies explanation even after you get to the end.

It is so compelling to read, with endlessly twisting turns that loop back as often as they split off or move forward. I wouldn't necessarily be able to explain it all to someone, but I'm confident it will keep my internal dialogue going for a long time.
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
*** 4.75 ***

"... “There are words that are simply trash, refuse, they turn into nothing immediately after they are spoken. Others throw shadows, hideous and pathetic, and sometimes gorgeous and powerful, capable of saving a dying soul. But only a few of these words become human beings and pronounce other words. And everyone in the world has a chance of encountering someone whom he himself spoke out loud . . .”...

I don't think I can give the right explanation, and it is weird that the word "Expl
Mayim de Vries
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Anything that is truly valuable is beyond material substance if you think about it.”

Among the people who write fantasy novels, there is a clear over-representation of the English-speakers. However, there are many talented writers of other nationalities; the Dyachenko duet, winners of numerous literary awards, is one of them. I think the Dyachenkos are at the moment a strong contender to dethrone the Andrews in my personal “married couples writing” hierarchy.

Alexandra Samokhina, an average teena
Mara YA Mood Reader
Complete nonsense. I pushed through to the end and highly regret the time I have wasted in my life reading this.

Also the excerpt in the back of the book from one of the author’s other titles, Daughter of the Dark or something like that, is borderline pedophilia in just the first chapters and I don’t even want to know more.

It starts off with a man in his 30’s coming across a child in a dark alley around 2am. He brings her home to his apartment instead of calling the police.

And the next morning
Nov 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
GR friends have pointed out they can tell whether I am enjoying a book by how long it takes me to read it - so the fact it took me 8 days to complete 400 pages should tell you something (in comparison, I read the 500 pages of the far superior The Book of Strange New Things in less than 2 days). I'm not sure what even drew me to this book in the first place, since I don't read much fantasy (although this barely qualifies), so it must have been the Russian aspect ... or the VERY cool cover. I WASN ...more
Rebecca Roanhorse
I absolutely loved this book. Another reviewer described it as "like Harry Potter, but if it was written by Kafka" and I couldn't agree more, in the best way. Dark, clever, and with a wonderfully creative and original magic system that I wish I'd thought of first. It resonates so deeply as some kind of theological truth about creation that feels both specific and universal and I'm into it. The pacing is solid (hard to put down), the mystery at the heart of the book is revealed slowly but once I ...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
My opinion - great book, while I'm sure it's not for everyone.
My feelings - this was like a crush. There are not so many books I was feeling like I lived in. This one was like that. I even had dreams about it at night. In such cases it's really hard to express what you think about it, because you mostly feel it. So just some general thoughts after finishing it - I've seen many great reviews here on GR, so I'll allow myself to lazy around just sharing my musings about it. Veeery light spoilers a
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First coherent thoughts: A long book that never felt long, this is a dark and often frightening version of the story of a young person going to a magical school. If the school had teachers who were uniformly scary and mysterious, and the main character was never told what she was studying and why, and what the effects would be on her mind, body and relationships. And that transformations and incredible power were to be at her disposal, and her life would be changed unimaginably.
This novel was a
☀ Kat Nova ☀
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
“To live is to be vulnerable”

I'm so incredibly mind fucked right now I don’t even know where to start…. This review is probably going to be a bit messy. Like my mind.

This was probably the weirdest book I’ve ever read. Let’s start there. The way “magic” works here is so unique, it’s not even magic, it’s kind of a science of life? I still haven’t quite figured it out, I’m confused but in a very good way. Our protagonist, Sasha, had to work hard for her powers and I loved watching her do it. It d
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The "world" as hypertext...a product of human language

Creation myths take various forms, one of which states the world does not exist until the the objects within it are given names. A corollary states that knowing and uttering a True name conveys control over that object or being. Persons capable of wielding this power have been called shamans, magicians, gods, and writers. This particular theme makes a frequent appearance in fantastic literature from Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest to R
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
This book is slow paced, philosophical, existential and it has a sort of dreary desperation throughout. But it's also a mysterious YA fantasy book set in Russia. It's dark and bleak, and can probably be described as a more mature wizarding school book.

It's definitely not a light read, although the language is simple and easy enough. For me, this has been one of those immersive, engrossing reads that wraps me up in it's specific, unique atmosphere and won't let go until I've read the last word -
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A novel that will make your head hurt if you think too much about what it seems to be about. Better to concentrate on what it is actually about, which is that liminal period in your early 20s when you begin to transition into an adult, and realize how utterly terrifying and final that transformation is.
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the beginning was the Word

Science, or more specifically - the school of magic - is a trope that's used a lot in fantasy literature. Not surprising. If done well it’s a joy to read. Have Diachenko’s succeeded?

Short answer - yes.

Vita Nostra twists the trope in most unexpected ways. It’s strange, thoughtful and dark tale about metamorphosis (both physical and metaphysical) that contains coming of age elements.

Sasha is a regular, high-school student who spends her holidays at the seaside. She
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vita Nostra, first published in 2007 in Ukraine, tells the story of Alexandra (Sasha) Samokhina, who whilst vacationing with her mother meets Farit Kozhennikov, a strange and sinister-looking man who forces her to attend a remote and mysterious university. This novel follows her adventures and exploits. One word that cannot be used to describe this novel is boring. It is certainly far from that and combines many different genres to create a truly original story. While I did enjoy aspects, I, unf ...more
Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Actual Rating: 4.5 Stars

Wow this was totally weird and very unique & I’m so incredibly bummed that the next couple of books in the series have not yet been translated to English. Definitely gave me The Magicians vibes but not quite as cynical.
Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky)
The best and most fascinating book I have read in years.
Fantasy meets speech act theory!

Part ONE ↠ 3 stars
Part TWO ↠ 2 stars
Part THREE ↠ 1 star

Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Just wow!

As usual I started reading this novel without having had a glimpse on the blurb or any review. I've heard that it was compared to a darker version of Harry Potter and therefore it seemed to fit the "the next ..." prompt of the challenge in the SFFBC group.

Weeeell ... okay, it could be described as 'Harry Potter' - but then it definitely needs the addendum "... if Harry Potter had been written by China Miéville".
Fortunately "Vita Nostra" is a class of its own without the need of a compar
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(cross posted from my blog review) Sasha is a normal, straight-A high-school student; until, on a holiday with her mother, a strange man with dark glasses approaches her, and asks her to get up at 4am every morning and swim to a buoy on the beach. She tries to ignore him, but when she does so, time stops passing: the same day loops over and over, trapping her in a morass of impending dread. When she finally takes the man’s advice and swims, she finds herself vomitting gold coins on the beach–and ...more
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Марина Дяченко
Marina and Sergey Dyachenko - co-authors of novels, short fiction, plays and scripts. They primarily write in Russian (and in the past also in Ukrainian) with several novels translated into English and published in the United States. These include, Vita Nostra (2012), The Scar (2012), The Burned Tower (2012), and Age of Witches (2014). The primary genres of their books are modern spe

Other books in the series

Метаморфозы (3 books)
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“To live is to be vulnerable. A thin membrane of a soap bubble separates one from impenetrable hell. Ice on the road. The unlucky division of an aging cell. A child picks up a pill from the floor. Words stick to each other, line up, obedient to the great harmony of speech...” 9 likes
“This institution of higher education had no such concept as mercy.” 7 likes
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