A stand-alone SF book set in a post-Soviet Union Russia with a healthy dose of Russian myths.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Page count: 427
Publisher: TOR

Elena Irinovna is an astrophysicist and she used to work in the U.S.S.R.’s space program. After the collapse of the Soviet government, the space program was ruthlessly cut down and Elena was one of the people who ended up unemployed. Like most people, she’s trying to survive as best she can. She and her family live in Kazakhstan. She managed to get a job as a cleaner and smuggles stolen goods in order to get so much money that she, her mother, and her sister can move to Canada. On a run to Uzbekistan to sell clothing, her ride is stopped at the border and she runs into a corpse which has a curious, small object in his hand. Elena takes it.

In St. Petersburg, Ilya Muromyets is again near death but like all other times before, a rusalka appears and heals him. Ilya was born 800 years ago and is one of the legendary Russian Sons of the Sun, a bogatyr. However, in recent years he’s been very depressed and looking for death. Only heroin has given him a little solace. Then, a strange man called Kovalin appears in his apartment. Kovalin claims that he knows what Ilya is and he might even help Ilya – if Ilya helps Kovalin first. Ilya agrees to find a strange object Kovalin is looking for.

The book has nine parts and each part has at least one chapter set in a world called Byelovodye where Colonel Anikova and her team are looking for a small object. Anikova’s team includes a Mechvor who can look into other people’s thoughts and dreams.

Elena’s and Ilya’s lives have become bleak and desperate. Elena still dreams about stars but she doesn’t believe that she can return to anything like her old job, even in Canada. At the same time, she’s lucky because she has a job and can even save money. The book portrays the brutal reality of the modern Russians and parts of it are really depressing to read. Elena’s sister was a lawyer and now she’s a waitress and resorts to prostitution, too. Elena wants to protect her family but that’s not easy.

Ilya is a figure from Russian legends and we get to see a few more of the centuries old Russian heroes. For a long time, Ilya tried to live up to the legend but ended up as a soldier in various wars. He became bitter and disillusioned, and now longs for death. However, he still has the instincts to protect others from the rusalki, the female monsters from mythology.

Byelovodye is a fascinating place and also from Russian myths. It’s said to be another world where dreams can come true. The question is, whose dreams?

The plot is slow at times, when our protagonists travel around, and furious at other times. There aren’t many fight scenes but they’re fast. Once again, people (and others) are usually not what they appear at first glance.

I liked the ideas more than the characters and I would have loved to see more of the Byelovodye’s side.