The Midnight Land: Part One: The Flight
by E.P. Clark
As younger sister to the Empress of all of Zem’ and the only one possessing her foremothers’ gifts of clairvoyance, Slava is both one of the most powerful and powerless people in the Known World. Desperate to escape the intrigue and hostility of her sister’s kremlin, Slava takes off on an expedition to the Midnight Land, the uninhabited, unmapped tundra on the Northern edge of Zem’. But as she travels North, Slava discovers that it is more than just the world of women that covets her gifts, and that fate is pushing her to become a most unlikely hero…
Combining high fantasy with motifs from classical Russian literature, this is both a gripping coming-of-age tale and a subversive exploration of gender, empathy, and morality.
The Midnight Land is set in Russia or a place very much like it, but not in a modern setting. It follows Slava, a young woman whose gifts make her both sought out and shunned by those around her. Sick of her lot in life, she jumps at the opportunity to get away for a while, even if it means traveling beyond the edges of the mapped northern border of Zem’ in the dead of winter.
What I most liked about this story was how Slava becomes aware of her own faults and begins to overcome them. This was an intriguing journey because she starts off seeing only the faults in others and grows through various stages of self-awareness. That she becomes stronger and almost heroic by the end made it all the better, especially as it is never too easy for her to do so.
I also like how it starts off like any sort of mundane journey. Even though there seems to be a paranormal edge to Slava’s gift, even she writes it off as just paying attention. All that lulled me into thinking this was all it would be, but when you hit the halfway mark, it becomes impossible to ignore the influence of things not of this world, though Slava, in particular, is slow to accept it.
As for things I found tough, well, the names of people and places are huge and peppered with various suffixes and permutations that seem to change the meaning of or relationship between them. There are clues and explanations woven into the book, but I also found it helpful to have been following a TV show where many of the characters speak in Russian, which helped with the pronunciation of some of the trickier words. It also helped me recognize that characters referring to each other by their full first and last names was correct, and the use of shorter names seemed to come with familiarity or an invitation to do so.
Another thing of note is the length. This is a very long book, which took me about a week to read, and I’m someone who sometimes reads four novels in that amount of time. I neither liked nor disliked this, but it was long, and decoding the Russian and keeping track of the characters made it a bit more challenging for me.
Finally, at the end of the book, it seems one journey comes to a conclusion and another just might be starting, but I wasn’t sure because it simply stopped. The book is a pretty good read in itself, but I’m not sure where the overall series is going.
Overall, I really liked this book. Folks who enjoy stories where fantasy and real life merge or where the folklore of real cultures is brought to life may enjoy this story.
I picked this book up while it was on a free promotion.
About the Author:
E.P. Clark's website
You can find a copy of this book and the next in the series on Amazon.