Spirit of All the Russias by John C. Bunnell

Spirit of All the Russias by John C. Bunnell
Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (21 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“This is not the Russia I remember.”

Baba Yaga, legendary witch and mistress of the chicken-legged hut Izbushka, has awakened to find her ancient homeland a blasted, nearly lifeless wasteland. Forestland has vanished, the old spirits are gone, and even humanity has nearly disappeared.

“You are stubborn as we were stubborn, fierce as we were fierce, self-reliant as we were self-reliant.”

One young man, Josef, finds himself caught up in Baba Yaga’s search for answers. But even with Josef’s insight, and with all the magic in Russia at her fingertips, will Russia’s most notorious sorceress be able to restore her homeland to even a shadow of what it was?

Change is a necessary part of life, but not every change is a good one.

Baba Yaga is one of the most interesting characters I’ve met in a long time. I hovered between fearing her unpredictable use of her powers and being utterly fascinated with how she expresses her concern for what has happened to her country. She’s dangerous and nurturing at the same time. This juxtaposition leaks through the plot in sometimes unexpected ways, and it is the biggest reason why I gave this story such a high rating.

As someone who is completely unfamiliar with the Russian language or that culture’s mythology, it would have been helpful if either the narrator or one of the characters had explained what Baba Yaga meant when she uses certain terms. I was able to figure out some of the references due to how they were used in the text, but there are a few terms that remain a mystery to me. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise enthralling tale, though.

The exquisitely detailed passages in this story made me feel as if I were standing next to Baba Yaga as she surveys the ruined land that she once knew so well. Spirit of All the Russias was my first introduction to Mr. Bunnell’s work. If this is any indication of the author’s world-building abilities, I can’t wait to read everything else he’s written so far.

Spirit of All the Russias is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the science fiction or fantasy genres.

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