“I don’t think it’s about demons. They are a side effect, a necessary evil. It’s all about magic, little fox. I know it’s hard for you to imagine, since your powers are blocked, but magic feels good. It’s almost like our bond. It makes you feel safe. It makes you feel as if you matter. So, faced with the extinction of magic and continuing your life normally, without this little flame in the dark… I can understand why they wouldn’t care about demons and just went for it.”
Wiktoria’s life has never been easy. When she was four, a priest told her she was evil, cursed. A Roma prophet saw pain and blood and a horrible future when she touched Wiktoria’s arm in the book store. The man who should protect her, the Guardian of the magical world, poisons her. Using her magic causes Wiktoria pain and everywhere she looks, people expect her to know things, do things, be something she’s neither able to understand or be. And now, with magic dying and people, her own people, trying to kill her for the betterment of their small, secret world, it seems as if everyone expects Wicktoria to have the answers.
Artur, her bond made, has his own expectations. They have dreamed of one another, they feel one another’s pain, and — in another world, in another time — might have been lovers. But Wiki doesn’t feel for him what Artur wants her to feel. Friendship, yes. Love, yes. Passion and compassion, loyalty and trust, but the bond between them isn’t shaded by sexuality or lust. It’s something deeper, something magical.
Wiktoria is a messy, confused, straightforward girl who only wants to be normal. The problem is … she isn’t normal. Wiki has telekinesis and it’s nothing but a literal headache. Using her powers hurts and all it ever does is cause problems. Electricity goes out, things break and explode and crash around her, and so, ever since she was a child, she’s had to learn control. Part of this control is just never thinking about it. Don’t use it, don’t try to control it or understand it, just ignore it and hopes it goes away. So far, it isn’t working, and it works even less when Artur finds her.
Like Wiki, Artur was born a sorcerer. Born on the solstice while Wiki was born on the equinox, he has always had control of his gift. He obeys the word of the Guardian — the individual who oversees the worlds of the sorcerers, who helps keep demons from breaking through into the mortal world, and lives his life. And until Artur meets Wiktoria, his life is just as normal as anyone else’s. When the two of them are together, their magic increases, their sensitivity to one another and the world around them grows, and Artur can’t help but think Wiki is the answer to all his problems.
Wiki is (most likely) asexual. She wanted to be like everyone else, to hug and kiss and pet and have sex, but it doesn’t feel to her the way the movies tell her it should. No swells of music, no birds chirping, no grand moments of indescribable joy. Wiki wanted a connection to another person, wanted that moment of breathless romance that just never came. When she’s with Artur, there is that connection, that moment where the world stops just for the two of them, but that’s magic, not sex. And as she gains confidence in her magic and herself, Wiki is able to see that what works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for her.
It’s a theme that carries into the plot, the idea that no one path, no single solution works for everyone. Just as Wiki has to struggle with the fractures and conflicts within the magical world, she’s being told this is white and that is black and id expected to believe what everyone else says without finding her own answer. Told that the Guardians are evil, that demons are evil, that spirits and rebels and Baba Jaga are evil, Wiki can’t help but wonder just who it was who decided these things. There are good people on both sides, for all that those sides are opposed, and Wiki isn’t going to sacrifice her own morals and judgements just because someone said to.
The villains in this book are nuanced, as are their causes. Both sides have twisted what is into what they want it to be, and for all Wiktoria knows — for all we know — the wrong side might yet be right. She can only judge them on their actions, on how much harm each side does, on how much good they do. The ideas in this book are stronger, for me, than the story. While there is nuance and care given to the characters, it can lead you to either love them or be disinterested in them. Wiki and Artur aren’t brightly colored tropes, they’re people, and as such, they don’t necessarily do grand and heroic things. But here, it’s the small things that make a difference, like throwing flour out at a cloud spirit, or googling a demon when you’re not sure what to do with it.
The dialogue — especially between Wiki and Artur — is bright and quick and charming. The pacing is pretty good, but at times it moves too quickly, glossing over things that I felt could have used more time to fully flesh them out. For a 300+ page book, it’s a fast read, and yet it took me a few days to finish it and that’s mostly due to the writing. It doesn’t seem like English is the author’s first language. Anna Kirchner was born in Poland and, after a few detours in other countries, settled in Sweden. Her writing has a slightly more distanced and remote style that reads as more formal and, in some parts, stilted, which some people may not enjoy. For my, it left me picking up the book intermittently, reading in spurts and never really committing to the characters as much as to the ideas and the world building within the story. That is not to say this is bad or wrong or poorly done, because the writing is good and the characters are solid and grounded. I just, personally, didn’t feel the call to binge this in one sitting.
However, the mythology, the complexity of the plot, the wonderful look at asexuality that shapes Wiki’s relationships while not defining her entire character — and Artur’s own questioning of his own needs and wants — works so well. I highly recommend this book, though for me it was a slow start. This is a book I’ll come back to and probably enjoy more on a re-read.