#WyrdandWonder Book Review: Spring’s Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Spring’s Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Dead God’s Heart
Publisher: Tor Books | Macmillan Audio (May 2, 2023)
Length: 368 pages | 11 hrs and 24 mins
Author Information: Website
Spring’s Arcana has been compared to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and it’s easy to see why. Lilith Saintcrow’s latest is a urban fantasy inspired by Russian folklore where an invisible world of mythological figures and divinities exists alongside the human one. The story follows protagonist Nat Drozdova, whose mother is dying of cancer. Although the relationship between them has been fraught over the years, Nat is devastated and is willing to do anything to help. That’s how she finds herself meeting with a mysterious woman known as Mrs. de Winter (not her real name, Nat strongly suspects) in the luxurious office of a Manhattan high-rise. What this woman can do for her mother that her doctors can’t, Nat doesn’t know, but soon it is revealed that de Winter—whom her underlings refer to as “Baba” or “Grandmother”—is no ordinary mortal.
And neither is Nat, apparently. Turns out that all her life, her mother had been keeping the truth of their lineage from her, and that the illness ravaging her is of supernatural origins. Still, this means it can be cured, but only if Nat can help a witch goddess retrieve a stolen object of great power. Assigned to help her on her quest is Dmitri Konets, an ill-tempered assassin who works for Baba but has also made it clear he wants Nat dead. To save her mother’s life though, Nat will have no choice but to trust Dima, accompanying him deep into a hidden world of fantastical magic and dangerous gods.
So much to unpack here and so much to say about this book, but in the end, I just wish it had been more. Things started well enough, and the story was good until it just…wasn’t.
Still, I’ll start with the positives. The world-building was quite impressive, as urban fantasies go. I truly enjoyed the creativity that went into permeating a modern day setting with elements from Slavic folklore and mythology, and seriously, who doesn’t love a talking cat? We also get to meet a lot of fascinating characters and are treated to some wondrous and powerful displays of magic. Saintcrow is clearly very skilled when it comes to setting up a good scene without having to spend a lot of time spelling it all out, because while much about the supernatural realm is merely suggested in the story, there is still a strong sense of this whole other reality exiting beneath the surface. Of course, having some background knowledge of the legend of Baba Yaga will certainly help to fill in any missing pieces.
That said though, the real buzzkill was the pacing. I’m tempted to say that the novel took its sweet time getting off the ground, but the reality is, it never really made it out of the hangar. To the author’s credit, she does a really good job filling the story with lots of interesting things so you’re never truly bored, but that also goes on to mask the real problem, which is that very little of import actually happens. In fact, it wasn’t until well into the final quarter of the book when it suddenly dawned on me to ask: What have we really accomplished here?
Not much, unfortunately. After a flurry of revelations in the intro where Nat makes several big discoveries about her own past and the truth of the supernatural world, the answers stop coming. The rest of the story pretty much consists of our protagonist being dragged around by Dima like some wide-eyed accessory, trying not to get herself killed. I definitely feel the book would have been a lot better if Nat had more agency and didn’t come across so helpless.
It’s a shame because the story had so much potential, but there was a clear lack of action to fill one novel, which makes the abrupt cliffhanger ending that much more frustrating. Quite honestly, I’m torn on whether I will pick up the next book. On the one hand, I’m not that emotionally invested in the story or the characters at this point, but on the other, I have a feeling the sequel will go much quicker now that we’ve gotten all the preamble out of the way. It’s a right conundrum, but I’ll probably wait for reviews before deciding if I will continue.
Don’t reward authors for books like this. Just. Don’t. Do. It!
Haha! I guess if I was just a regular reader and had to buy/pay for my own books I might feel less inclined for sure. But if a review copy of the sequel somehow lands on my doorstep, I’ll probably keep it in mind.
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It’s always saddening to see so much potential squandered… Reading your comments I wondered if the author had made the mistake to cram all the revelations at the start, leaving the rest of the book too thin to be really intriguing….
Possible, or that she probably could have made both books a longer novel and just cut out a lot of the filler!
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I’m hoping to get to this one soon. Too bad about the plot, but I’m not surprised, because of all the middling reviews on Goodreads.
Yes, I noticed some of those reviews too, and was glad I wasn’t the only one who felt a little let down by this one.
I have always wanted to try this author, but I have never had the chance
I do see her older books floating around a lot!
Hmmmm, that’s too bad, because it sounds like there was some potential there. Urban fantasy is one of those sub-genres I only occasionally delve into, but when done right it can be a lot of fun.
I agree, and I feel like I used to be inundated by new UF series coming left and right. Seems as a genre, the trend has died down though.
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