Ten year-old Ivan and his parents are trying to leave their native Ukraine. While they wait for exit visas to come through, they visit their cousin Marek in the country. While there, Ivan runs through a neighboring forest and comes to a clearing where a beautiful young woman sleeps upon a stone bed in the middle of a pit. Ivan feels something for the woman, but cannot see how to cross the pit and leaves to return to Marek’s house. The next day, he and his parents make the long journey to America, where Ivan grows up and follows his father into Russian literature academia, including learning an ancient Russian dialect. Ivan gets engaged to a girl named Ruth, but then travels to Ukraine for an extended research trip. While there, he decides to visit cousin Marek and once again finds the clearing. He manages to jump across the pit, best a bear, and kiss the maiden awake. That’s when his adventures begin.
This was another audiobook, and my first Orson Scott Card novel. My friend Heather actually suggested it as a gateway to Card, and it was a wonderful entrant. The book was so, ahem, enchanting that I would have a hard time switching it off when I arrived at my destinations. The book is narrated from a variety of viewpoints, though mostly from Ivan and Princess Katerina. Their hesitant love was touching and believable, and especially frustrating when you as a reader could see how much they cared even if they were too stubborn to admit it.
As far as fairy tales go, this was my favorite retelling so far. There were modern and historic elements to the novel, and remarkably they all tied together wonderfully. (I used a lot of adjectives there, don’t kill me!)
The audiobook itself was narrated by both a male and female narrator, to account for the switching viewpoints’ genders. It was a little weird to hear the same actor used for the villain (Baba Yaga), Ivan’s mom, and Katerina, but the voice actress did a good job making them sound a bit distinct. Mostly I loved that the actors were either Russian or at least sounded Russian. It brought a lot of realism to the narrators, and it provides that ambiance that you wouldn’t find with an American voice actor.
If you’re looking for a fairy tale re-telling or simply an enchanting story, I honestly could not recommend this more highly. I will most definitely be reading/listening to it again.
Audiobook Rating: 10/10