Finnish-Australian author Kuivalainen offers a debut urban fantasy about a young girl battling dark forces.
After wolves shockingly attack Anya’s grandfather in the middle of summer, she sits grieving in a local café. She lives in a village bordering Russia and Karelia that’s “so small that it didn’t even have an official name,” so she’s naturally surprised when a stranger greets her in English; she’s doubly shocked when he introduces himself as Tuoni, the ruler of the Underworld. He explains to Anya that her grandfather was a shaman with great powers, and that she also has magical ability that “needs to be utilised, or it will not only be a disaster for you but for your whole world.” It turns out that there’s a gate between Earth and the Otherworld, which just so happens to border Anya’s farm. Anya becomes aware that the wolves that killed her grandfather were no ordinary predators, and she knows that her task ahead will be a formidable one. As she confronts evil forces, she’s aided by Yvan, an ancient prince who can transform into a firebird and other supernatural beings that Anya thought only existed in fairy tales. Several characters enjoy drinking alcohol, including Anya, who at one point wants “vodka, anything alcoholic, to calm her scattered nerves.” The book’s dialogue can be both obvious and clunky, as when a character states, “I can’t make you stay but it’s going to be a shit fight and I would feel better having you fighting at my side.” However, the story incorporates a fair share of surprises, and never fails to provide new scenes featuring bloodshed and strange new creatures (“It flopped, bloody as a newborn onto the ground and stretched its wings. It started to cry and grew to the size of a horse”). The beasts, in particular, help this story to move beyond the genre’s many clichés, and their complexity extends well beyond typical fantasy creatures.
Fantasy fans will likely enjoy Anya’s adventures, which feature novel supernatural elements in a modern setting.