Review: Vita Nostra

VitaNostra_HC.jpgTitle: Vita Nostra (November 13, 2018)
Authors: Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Translator: Julia Meitov Hersey
Pages: 416


Vita Nostra follows the plight of Sasha Samokhina, a Russian teenager who is enrolled at a mysterious college where she undergoes major transformations as she navigates social politics, her unique nature, and a bizarre cadre of peculiar professors.

When I read Harry Potter for the first time, I dreamt about how wondrous and wonderful it would be if a place like Hogwarts existed. The school featured in Vita Nostra elicited the opposite feeling and I hope I never come across such a twisted place. It seemed as though a storm cloud drifted over my head every time I opened this book and it felt like I was reading with gray tinted glasses. The dread and foreboding are palpable.

Have you ever had the nightmare where you show up to a final exam and you forgot to study? Or you forgot you had an exam in the first place and you miss it altogether? This book is like that nightmare on acid. It touches on many anxieties that I had packed away and left in high school. It’s odd and unnerving and it really dug itself into my brain in ways that books don’t normally do.

The plot is evasive by design and we know as little about what’s going on as Sasha does at the start. Sasha eventually finds clarity, but things felt just as murky to me. This was a frustrating read, but there’s something to be said about an author being able to evoke an emotional reaction for a reader. I may not have enjoyed Vita Nostra, but I certainly respect its uniqueness and the tone it sets and maintains throughout.

★★★ out of 5

My thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Philosopher’s Flight

Philosopher's FlightTitle: The Philosopher’s Flight (2018)
Author: Tom Miller
Pages: 432

My thanks to Edelweiss/NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In the midst of World War I, society grapples with the proliferation of Empirical Philosophy or “sigilry”, an art form that allows users to summon wind, carve smoke, or fly through the sky. Opponents of the field denounce and demonize these practitioners, as they seek to eradicate their kind from the face of the earth. Robert Weekes, a teenager with a burgeoning gift for sigilry, attempts to succeed in the female-dominated field and find himself along the way. He must exert considerable effort to prove himself against the notion that men are not good enough to be skilled in Empirical Philosophy.

In today’s current cultural climate, it seems ill-considered to center a book around a male character who must overcome gender discrimination…but at the same time, it’s refreshing to read an alternate history where women are so revered and respected for their talents in the first place. It also helps that Robert is a virtuous and endearing lead character who is easy to root for and works hard for everything he earns.

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. His writing style and dialogue choices really do a great job situating the reader in the early 20th century setting. Additionally, the plot, characters, motivations, and worldbuilding are all nicely fleshed out and well developed.

The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully inventive historical fantasy that sinks its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. I truly enjoyed Tom Miller’s debut and hope a sequel is on the horizon. (The cover is great, too!)

★★★★½ out of 5