Rusalka by C. J. Cherryh

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Oct 1, 2010

Rusalka sadly suffers from a deceptively bad cover and worse descriptive blurb. There is nothing in either to indicate the exploration of the fantasy genre, the nature of humanity, or the price of having your wishes granted. What is presented as the cheesy love story of a man and a ghost is more accurately a chilling tale of murder, abuse of power, understanding of self, and learning how to live with people you can't possibly understand.

The story begins in Vojvoda, where Sasha the stableboy greatly admires the town's most notorious rakehell, Pyetr. Sasha works in silence under his miserly aunt and uncle's sufferance, as they are his only family; Pyetr has no family at all, but knows his way around dice and has charmed himself into the graces of young men of good breeding and more money than they know what to do with. Pyetr's also charmed his way into a variety of beds around town, and is discovered by an angry husband who stabs Pyetr then collapses from the shock. Injured, foresaken by his so-called friends, and with nowhere else to go, he stumbles into Sasha's stable and, much to his bemusement, is granted shelter. Unfortunately, the peace cannot last.

The two of them flee: a man accused of murder and the boy who harbored a fugitive, wherever they can go in the teeth of the oncoming winter, and find themselves more than half-dead at the house of a wizard in the middle of a dead forest. That's when things get really difficult.

Cherryh is famous for her award-winning science fiction, but I've always adored her fantasy. It's frequently grim, but it's invariably, deeply human, and all the more amazing for it.

Written by Rachel C.