Toothsome fantasy set in a medieval Russia analogue, from Robertson (White Rose, 2004, etc.).
Young orphan Aria, slave of the Bone Witch, roams the vast wild woods of Markovy and, with her protective rune and invisibility spell, fears no leopard, troll-bear or lycanthrope. One day she sees Byeli Zamak castle burning, and soon a knight flees into the wood bearing the Firebird’s Egg. Aria decides to help the handsome, kindly knight, a Gascon exile named Sir Roye de Roye, who held the castle for the infant Prince Ivan until overwhelmed by the forces of Grand Duke Sergey, Ivan’s ambitious uncle. The late king Demitri stole the magical Egg, thus inviting a curse upon the land. Aria hides Sir Roye, tends his wounds and feeds him, but Prince Sergey’s lycanthrope tracks her easily. Sergey’s troops kill the Bone Witch despite her magic and force Aria to lead them to Sir Roye; the latter agrees to yield the Egg in exchange for Aria. Sergey immediately revokes his bargain, only to be killed by a leopard—the Bone Witch herself—while Sir Roye disposes of the remaining troops. The Witch charges Aria with returning the Firebird’s Egg to its nest atop Burning Mountain deep inside the Iron Wood. Meanwhile, Tartars are pressing against Markovy’s eastern borders, though Markovy’s petulant clans are too arrogant and absorbed with internecine quarrels to pay much heed. A Tartar shaman forces Prince Sergey’s corpse to reveal the significance of the Firebird’s Egg; and so Aria and Sir Roye set forth with both angry Markovites and ruthless Tartars on their trail. And all this is just the beginning of an astonishing series of adventures for willful Aria and her brave knight.
A consummate blend of folklore, magic, history and storytelling, this book is sensual, culturally literate and perfectly pitched.