I found this novel a little hard to get into, perhaps solely because of the slavic names. I am afraid I didn't give this book much of a chance... I started it, couldn't really see myself getting into it, and then gave up.
Rusalka, by C.J. Cherryh. Be careful what you wish for...
Just ask Sasha Misurov. At five years old, he wished that his father would not beat him anymore. Soon thereafter, a fire burned down his house, claiming both his parents' lives, and damning him in the eyes of the community of Vojvoda as a dangerous jinx- because nothing in Pre-Christian Russia ever happens by chance. That such a good-hearted innocent kid could be regarded as a danger is almost laughable, until you realize that his wish did indeed come true.
Not that Pyetr Kochevikov believes in such nonsense. Or that Pyetr had had a better relationship with his father, either. Born in the gutter to a notorious thief who kept trying to lose him, Pyetr had to rely on his wits and an uncanny ability to figure the odds in order to rise up to the social stratum he now enjoyed, befriended by youth of the nobility and, increasingly, wives of the nobility too.
But when one such wife needs to cover her own tracks regarding a suddenly and mysteriously dead husband, Pyetr goes from being her illicit lover to being the scapegoat. Charged with murder by sorcery, teenagers Pyetr and the practically complete stranger but supposed accomplice Sasha flee the city; Pyetr suffering from a horrid sword wound, and Sasha wishing they would make it safely to help.
The tail end of winter is no time to be running around Russia without so much as a coat, much less if you are bleeding to death and being chased by the tsar's law. Taking a shortcut through a long-dead forest is probably not a good idea either. They don't have much choice, however, and Sasha's wishing pays off as they finally come across a cabin on the river, and the only thing that can help the dying Pyetr at this point: a sorcerer. A sorcerer with an even worse relationship with his father, and, oh yes, who was not such a good father himself.
(One does wonder about CJC's relationship with her father, even though most likely she just took a theme and ran with it.)
This sorcerer has spent the last hundred years trying to reconcile his failed relationship with his daughter, who was drowned trying to run away, and who became Rusalka: a vengeful spirit who desperately wants to avoid death, and who does so by draining the life out of those around her.
And of course it follows that Pyetr, who thinks there is a rational explanation for everything, and Sasha, who imposes no such qualifications on reality, grow increasingly more and more entangled in a struggle neither of them understand, in a place where nothing and nobody is what it seems, where no one can trust anyone else, and where someone must die for a wish to come true.
Indeed, a Rusalka is itself just a wish, a rather innocent wish, with very bad consequences: a wish to live.
Don't worry; that's just the set-up for the story, with no real spoilers. It's just the beginning. I didn't give away any of the rest, involving raising the dead, battles with river demons, a desperate attempt to escape, a climactic showdown between master and apprentice, and snake-handed elephants. :p
a few quotes:
â... aunt Ilenka came flying out of the kitchen waving her spoon and calling on the Sun, the tsar, and all his magistrates.â (pg. 1)
âHe's over all kinder than sane folk know how to be.â (pg. 39)
âOnce at hours like this, Pyetr told himself, he had been lazing about in a soft, warm bed no magician was goig to chase him out of.â (pg. 252)
That being said, it's really not so much of a ghost story as, er, a traditional ghost story. It just happens to have ghosts etc as characters. :D Case in point, the cover blurb:
A grim but warmly human story of courage, sacrifice, and desperate love between a tormented spirit and a mortal man.
And no, it's not that kind of love. That's over in the romance department, I'm sure. Look for the vampire on the cover.
This is well-written Fantasy with developed characters. Sasha and Pyetr are the two most likeable characters I've come across in awhile. Cherryh shows us their faults and all their redeeming qualities. This book gives a beautiful message about friendship, love and trust.
From Publishers Weekly
A Rusalka--the spirit of a maiden drowned by accident or force--will return as a ghost to haunt the river and woods where she met her death. The locale for this fantasy by SF writer Cherryh ( Downbelow Station ) is pre-Christian Russia. Two young men flee the village of Vojvoda--Pyetr, accused of killing a wealthy noble, and Sasha, an accessory to his escape. They are making their way to Kiev when, in the middle of a forest, they become involved in the search for the wizard Uulamets's dead daughter Eveshka, a Rusalka and a wizard herself. Uulamets wants to resurrect her, but evil forces oppose him, among whom may be Kavi Chernevog, Uulamets's former student, and a suspect in Eveshka's death. Cherryh fills her story with myriad magical creatures from Slavonic mythology. A richness of detail and characterization enliven this drama about the human (and unhuman) greed for power and the redemptive power of love.