Saturday, 30 May 2009

Prince Ivan by Peter Morwood

Another for the Once Upon a Time III Challenge. At the start I was a little uncomfortable with the writing style of this retelling of one of the best-known Russian fairytales, the story of Prince Ivan and Marya Morevna. The first chapters tell of the wooing of Ivan's three sisters by three powerful sorcerors, and the story jumps about rather in time in an endeavour to give as much background as possible. This isn't entirely successful, and creates a rather chaotic feeling but, once the tale settles down, at the beginning of Chapter Four, to describe the Tsarevitch's journey to visit his newly-married sisters, it begins to hang together rather better, because what Ivan has always wanted is to go on a quest.

In many ways it would be hard to go wrong, this is such a good story. The author - who has written several fantasy novels which revolve around some very Asian-feeling horse clans - has opted for a simple re-telling. No updating to a modern setting or looking for a modern slant, the author has chosen to give us a tale set in a medieval Russia full of the tensions between the new Christian god and the ancient and magical traditions of the Russians, Tatars and Cossacks. Admittedly, this is a world were sorcerors are taken for granted, but it's recognisably that fairytale past that we are all familiar with.

Ivan's brothers-in-law are all determined that he will marry the sorceress Marya Morevna, and send him off to meet her. Educated by a father who had hoped for a son, she is a daunting woman, commander of her own armies and fearless against her foes. Ivan is instantly smitten. At which point everyone ought to live happily ever after, but Ivan discovers that Marya has a dark secret, in the form of a sorceror chained up in her dungeon. Soon they are both caught up in a deadly fight with Koshchey the Undying, and Ivan finds himself setting out on his quest in earnest.

The story really comes into its own with the most dangerous part of Ivan's journey, to the country of the terrifying witch Baba Yaga, and from there to the end I was held spellbound. There are at two sequels to Prince Ivan, Firebird and The Golden Horde, and I find I'm looking forward to both of them.

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