Good books (2.5 to 3.5)

Spring’s Arcana [Dead Gods Heart Duology #1], by Lilith Saintcrow

3.5 out of 5 stars. Interesting premise, but told in a hard to follow way.

3.5 stars

In these troubled times, everything that seems related to Russia is eyed with mistrust. But the fact remains true that Slavic folklore holds a great deal of fairy tales and characters, especially of the dark variety, to be raw material for countless stories. Shall we find out if this holds true for dark urban fantasy roadtrips, as well?

To get the full picture, please read the review to the second part.

The promise of the story seems simple enough: Natasha’s mother is sick, terribly so, and she sends her to visit a woman heading a corporation named Y.A.G.A. – and while that woman’s name is given as Ms. de Winter, her employees refer to her as Baba. Let’s just say it’s not very subtle, and I assume Baba Yaga is probably the most notorious character of Slavic folklore. (In this case, she resides in a skyscraper, not in a hut, and I somehow doubt the skyscraper has chicken legs.) I’m also suspecting a cross breed with the summer and winter court of the Fae.

Baba Yaga, also known as the black witch

The writing style is truly show, don’t tell; and the overall tone is gloomy. I’ve never read a simple bus ride that was so gloomy, and you get the feeling the novel is starting to set out on heavy and dark notes from page 1. (That means if you don’t have a knack for darker things in life, this novel might not be for you.) But the style of also exhausting, because Lilith – we need to talk about that later on – constantly uses mental pictures. A lot of them, and some really, well – let’s call them really creative ones. Sometimes more than one per sentence. Let me elaborate:

He stared out the window like he was seeing raccoons along the back fence instead of just a snowed-under postage-stamp yard mom kept trimmed, weeded, and neat until the snow came and obliterated all trace of green each year.

– a murder of mental images

Mental images are a great thing if they are able to paint a picture for the reader, but even when they are good, they should be used sparsely, so not to exhaust the reader. I felt rather overwhelmed at times by all the comparisons that were drawn into the writing, and the worst thing is that many of them made no sense to me. While I get that postage-stamp yard reference in the last sentence (I would probably have called it a postcard yard instead), I absolutely have no clue how people stare when they’re seeing raccoons on the fence. Never witnessed anything like that, and there’s just nothing similar I could draw upon to come even close. I’ve seen people staring frightened into thunder and rain, or being afraid of lightning, but raccoons along the back fence? I’ve got no clue.

Had this man seen raccoons along the back fence? We’ll never know.

I’m also getting heavy American Gods vibes right from the start, just in this case more Russian gods (well, Neil Gaiman did feature Slavic deities in his novel, as well). But I think that Lilith’s prose is trying too hard to make the jump to American Gods.

There’s those comparisons, trying very hard to sound cool, all the while making no sense. And just by judging from the pen name, the author is also trying very hard to look cool in the context of the occult. Lilith Saintcrow might be, as a friend of mine put it, a really “punch in the face” pen name. I agree.

And that’s a pity, because that forced coolness is looming like the shadow of a hyper exaggerated titan, swinging an axe as dark as the exhaust pipe of a 57 Chevy, over an otherwise interesting plot that now looks like it has seen too many raccoons, despite the fact that there are no raccoons in the story. (Sorry for that sentence, but I had to make a point.)

Raccoons. Never trust them.

The story underneath is sometimes hard to follow, but full of very interesting characters. Most outstanding are Nat – the heroine – and her mother as well as Baby Yaga. (I’m inclined to describe both of them as antagonists.) But if you want, you may see them as the same person, kind of. Taking the Wiccan nature of the author’s pen name into account, they could very well represent the maiden, the mother and the crone. That’s actually in line with some of the Yaga myths out there.

What is a lot harder to follow are the many characters and places and their standing in the world. A lot is said about that, but nothing explained – and sometimes I wish the “show, don’t tell” approach wouldn’t be so strict here. Like, I don’t mind a little telling, you know? Just a little more context, please? 🥺

And the pace is a problem. It takes forever to really get going, and forever to clearly articulate what Nat’s mother has really planned for here. (I suspected as much, but Nat had to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, quite literally.) And by that time, the slow crawling pace had wasted so much pages that the story can’t even be finished. It has to be continued. Sucks.

In the end, it’s 3.5 stars for me. Really very interesting premise, but the narrating is winding, letting the reader too often in the dark, and I strongly suspect the story could have been finished within the 300+ pages with a more precise story telling.

Disclaimer: No raccoons were harmed during the creation of this review. At least none I know of. Also, I was provided an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

3 replies on “Spring’s Arcana [Dead Gods Heart Duology #1], by Lilith Saintcrow”

Raccoons on a fence? Really? They are scavengers. They hiss at you. Those nasty critters! Lots of people think they are cute: not me! If you’ve ever been hissed at by one – pointy fangs and all, you wouldn’t think they were cute. They make a total mess of your garbage bins. A nuisance, that is what they are, and shameless too: they aren’t afraid of humans, they will stare right back at you instead of running away. Not my favourite critter! Great review, as always Stefan!

Liked by 1 person

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