A review of Elena the Brave by Julie Mathison – thoroughly enjoyable

And now for something a little different…

A while back I ended up with a review copy of one of Julie Mathison’s mysteries, The Starlet Letter, and really liked it, even though I hadn’t realized until I was part way along that it was “officially” a YA mystery.    After all, who says adults can’t enjoy YA books from time to time – and I did.

So when I ended up in a bit of an email discussion with the author, and then found out that she also had a relatively recent YA book that was a mix of folklore and fantasy, I grabbed a review copy of that one too.    (Even though this blog is “Mostly Mysteries”, I also dabble in other genres from time to time…)   And Elena the Brave turned out to be just as enjoyable as The Starlet Letter, even though the two are totally different.

To start with, much of Elena is set in a rather relevant part of the world right now – in “Old Rus”, whose territories, depending on what century you look at, overlap with Ukraine, and whose history is quite wrapped up with that of Kyiv.   And having just finished Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s online course on Ukraine, which spent quite a while on Kyivan (Old) Rus, and also having encountered quite a bit of Russian folklore in some of Ilona Andrews’ books, I felt both fascinated by and at home with much of the setting.

But luckily, you don’t have to have viewed Snyder’s course or read Andrews’ books to enjoy Elena the Brave – it stands just fine on its own!  Mathison does a wonderful job of weaving Elena’s coming-of-age tale seamlessly with the Old Rus myths and legends that Elena had heard from her babka, providing a captivating background, while not slowing things down at all.   Throughout the book, Elena grows and matures, along with Mitya, the boy in the story.   And finally, at the end, like many coming-of-age stories, there’s a bit of bittersweetness, but it’s appropriate bittersweetness.  So although I shed a tear or two, they were good tears, and I was left with a sense of rightness – that things were as things should be.  And I hope that Mathison writes a third Old Rus book sometime soon – I’d like to visit that world again!

Oh yeah, and if you do manage to get a bit lost, there’s a wonderful Glossary in the back.  And finally, my thanks to NetGalley and Starr Creek Press for the review copy.

Buy: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada – and also available via Kindle Unlimited, if you have that

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