Kris's Reviews > Rusalka

Rusalka by C.J. Cherryh
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's review
Aug 25, 2015

it was ok
bookshelves: first-edition, own-it
Recommended for: Fans of folklore

Not CJ's best book, by any means. It wasn't terrible, but it was pretty ordinary, which for CJ is kind of shocking. Granted, this was fairly early in her career, so I'll make allowances, but for fans of hers, be warned: this doesn't meet her usual writing standards.

A rusalka is a ghost, from Slavic/Russian folklore, of a woman who died violently in the water - accidental drowning, suicide or murder. This spirit haunts the woods near where she died, drawing energy by killing unsuspecting people who happen by. This book is a very long fairy tale about one such spirit.

The book is set in what would appear to be Medieval Russia. It begins in a small village, where we see a young ne'er-do-well, Pyeter, get in a fight with the husband of a woman he's seduced. The man dies during the fight (without being touched by Pyeter) and the village authorities are called out. Pyeter was wounded in the fight, and hides in the stable of the local inn. He is discovered there by Sasha, the young stable boy, who has a bad habit of wishing things about people and having those wishes come true. For whatever reason, Sasha decides to help Pyeter, and they end up running away together. They eventually stumble across the home of an old man, who saves Pyeter's life by healing him with magic. The old man, Uulamets, is a wizard, you see. He tricks the young men into helping him resurrect his dead daughter, Eveshka, who is a rusalka.

The first part of the story moves along rather well, though the character development of the two young men is fairly sketchy, especially that of Sasha. Once they join forces with Uulmamets and begin trying to rescue Eveshka, the rest of the book is mostly arguments. Pyeter & Sasha argue. Sasha and Uulamets argue. Eveshka and Uulamets argue. All four of them argue. This goes on and on and on, for the rest of the book. There are encounters with other magical creatures from Slavic/Russian folklore, but these don't overshadow the incessant bickering among the characters. Even the final battle seemed to be just a blip between arguments.

The magic in this world is never fully defined - it seems to be along the lines of simply wishing and believing things, though Uulamets uses potions and spells, as well. People seem to be born with the ability to use magic, and those that are recognized as such can be taught by wizards. But clearly, wizards and magic are not thought of in a positive light by the mundanes, since Sasha was so ostracized and criticized for his 'wishing' abilities. Otherwise, one would think he would have been sent to a wizard as an apprentice.

Another nit to pick: CJ massively overuses the phrase "with which" and its similar cousins. Every other page, and sometimes twice on the same page, we get something along the lines of:

She wanted them safe. Which notion far from reassured him.


...Upon which thought...


...After which decision...

Used sparingly, there is nothing wrong with these phrases. But they are used dozens of times in this book - and often enough that they are jarring interruptions to the flow of the story.

Between the unending arguments and the awkward phrasing, this book needed the hand of a very good editor. Sadly, it didn't benefit from such. As the first in a trilogy, it doesn't spur me to want to read the rest of the books, though I may give them a try - someday.

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Reading Progress

August 25, 2015 – Started Reading
August 25, 2015 – Shelved
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: first-edition
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: own-it
September 4, 2015 – Finished Reading

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