Have you ever read a short story and wished there was more? What came before or after? Another voice or just a bit more. Often, that’s the mark of a good short story. The questions don’t really need answering, but that you’d like them to be means you were invested and you’d like to read on. It’s always with a sense of delight that I pick up a book that delves back into a quickly visited world.
I first encountered Mayra, mistress of the solstice, in a short story called ‘Solstice Maiden’ which appeared in the anthology ‘Once Upon A Curse: Stories And Fairy Tales For Adult Readers’. ‘Mistress Of The Solstice’ expands on that short story and does so in a way that answers many of the small queries I had.
Mayra is a priestess. Once a year, she must sacrifice a virgin in order to prolong the life of her father, the tzar Kashchey. She believes Kashchey uses his power to protect the kingdom from their enemies and so performs her gruesome task with the emotionless detachment he has taught her. Ivan is the youngest son of another tzar who wants to see Kashchey’s cruel dominion come to an end. With the help of select Immortals, Baba Yaga, Leshy, Raven and a mysterious grey wolf, he hopes to end the sacrifices. Mayra holds the key to her father’s power but first, he has to make her feel emotion. She has to care.
The twist in the tale still came as a surprise, which is a testament to the author’s storytelling skills. I was caught up, again, until the end. Ivan’s side of the story, previously unexplored, is the stuff of classic fairy tales. He calls himself a fool, but he is not foolish and is only earnest in his beliefs and his desire to be good and help others.
Mayra’s journey seems to go the opposite direction. She believes she knows everything when, really, she is more innocent than the boy she thinks a fool. The intersection of these two characters is symbolised by a flower called Ivan-and-Mayra. It should be two flowers, but they grow together and inspire stories of fated lovers.
‘Mistress Of The Solstice’ is not Anna Kashina’s strongest book. I prefer her ‘Dhagabad’ novels. I enjoyed Ivan’s side of the tale and found him to be an endearing character. I had more difficulty connecting with Mayra. Sometimes, the short snippets of thought, chapters of a single page, raised more questions than they answered but Kashina’s interest in folk lore and desire to tell her own story does shine through. This is still a good book and at just over two hundred pages, it’s a quick read and one fans of her other books will likely enjoy.
(pub: Dragonwell Publishing. 205 pages small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-9838320-4-1. Ebook: £3.80 (UK) $5.95 (US). ASIN: B00GU0T262)
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- MISTRESS OF THE SOLSTICE reviews | Dragonwell Publishing Blog | December 11, 2013