I’m not sure I liked this as well as I could have. Some things feel unfulfilled. I know this is part of a series, and I plan to get my hands on book 2, but some of the characters and the world seems incomplete.
I liked that this novel relied in more detail on the folklore traditions it was working with than Uprooted (which I loved), and you get to meet some of the creatures like the domovoi and the rusalka. I wish there was a little more information about the upyr though, and how/why the Bear chose them.
Two of Vasya’s brothers don’t get much attention in the story, but they are present enough that a little more detail in their characters would have been nice. I’m really hoping we get to see more of Sasha in the sequel since the second-hand bits and pieces about him sound really interesting, especially in view of what happens with Vasya by the end. Kolya has enough presence in the story to appear to be the ‘normal’ brother, although he doesn’t have much to do. I also wonder about what’s with Sergei, the monk who seems to have some kind of story that we don’t get much of a hint about.
Another place where I wanted more was the politics in Moscow, since that’s where a lot of the action and suspense gets started. Father Konstantin and Anna are pretty well developed for the antagonists that they turn out to be, but a little more backstory or personality for the priest would have made me less suspicious of the creepy aspect of his character that turns out to be important in how things turn out. There isn’t much reason for his shameful thoughts or his reliance on what he thinks is the spirit of the Lord, and it’s not clear why the Metropolitan is so eager to get him out of the city; there’s hints but too much not explicitly made known. I found out from looking at the notes after the story that several of the characters were historically based, which might have helped fill in some gaps, but since I don’t know much Russian history, political or cultural, this part felt thin.
I think that the biggest problem for me is that the conflict between Morozko and the Bear isn’t filled out enough for it to really make sense as the source of the main threat. I don’t know a lot about Russian folklore, and given that this conflict is central to the basic story, I need more about who they are and what happened between them to really get into the main narrative.