A real fairy tale, in traditional, bloody style.
A thousand years ago, a princess of Russia chose Christianity, rejecting the pagan gods, demons and magic of her people. As a result, Russia split into two, dividing into Mir, the world of men, and Skazki, the world of story. In the present day, a mysterious golden bear figurine is unearthed from an old St. Petersburg bath house. It transports Em, a curiously cold television presenter, and Daniel, a lovelorn script editor, into Skazki. Meanwhile, Daniel’s former lover Rosa, a woman with second sight and a terrible secret, apprentices herself to a treacherous wizard to gain the knowledge to bring Em and Daniel back to Mir. Wilkins (The Autumn Castle, 2004) uses an extensive knowledge of Russian folklore to create a viscerally real Skazki; no candy-colored Disney paradise, it’s unpleasant, uncomfortable and extremely dangerous. There are no brave heroes or absolute villains in this book, just people (and entities) doing what they need to do (be it unethical or disgusting) to survive and preserve their loved ones. And magic, while a useful and powerful tool, always exacts its price. These strictures make for superlative world building and a plot that leads to a perfectly inevitable conclusion.
Intriguing, genuine, rich.