ARC review: Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

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Vita Nostra

by Marina Dyachenko & Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey

Published on the 13th of November

Goodreads page

I received an arc of Vita Nostra in return for an honest review. Thank you to Edelweiss, the publisher and the author for providing me a copy! This has in no way affected my opinion of the book.

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Sasha is at a beach holiday with her mother when she notices that an odd man wearing dark sunglasses just happens to be always around her. This man follows her, looking for the opportunity to approach her as soon as Sasha’s mother doesn’t happen to be right next to her. Sasha escapes the man until he snakes into her dreams. Out of breath from fear, she is finally caught and has to hear what he has to say. The man is Farit Kozhennikov and he assigns Sasha weird, scandalous tasks without any meaningful explanation for them. But if Sasha fails to meet Farit’s demands, something awful will happen.

Vita Nostra is a new fantasy release in English. It was originally published in Ukraine in 2007 where it has become a huge success. Finally we who happen to have a tiny bit rusty Russian get to enjoy this dark fantasy! And oh, it is so deliciously dark. Vita Nostra is the kind of dark fantasy that gives you shivers and makes you hope that this kind of magic really is fictional.

In many ways Vita Nostra brought to my mind Harry Potter. That is, if Hogwarts was an AWFUL place. Farit forces Sasha to leave behind her other dreams and travel to a small town of Torpa to attend the Institute of Special Technologies. This institute is filled with teachers that force students to work until they despair, dorm rooms without heating in the midst of winter, and odd second years who freeze halfway through a simple task. Oh, and every odd second-year seems to also be disapled or crippled, one having difficulty with a foot, another with an arm, a third laughing uncontrollably.

While Vita Nostra is undenyiably dark, it is also captivating. I found it unputdownable as soon as I started reading. I was so immersed in the storytelling that hours would just disappear with my nose buried into my kindle’s virtual pages.

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Vita Nostra doesn’t follow the traditional storytelling arc, and it is overall a very mysterious novel.  I was desperate to see these amazing characters to survive the trials they face, and I didn’t stop to think before now that there wasn’t really any other big quest. That’s because the characters whose perspective we get to follow are students in the Institute of Special Technologies, and they’re told next to nothing about why they need to do the things that they have to do. Likewise, I didn’t have a clue about where the story was taking me and so I became pretty much addicted to it.

This novel also happened to be a perfect read for this time. I’m swamped with coursework and it has taken a toll on both my reading and my blog (which I hate because I love this blog! But I’m sure it will get easier.) But somehow, reading about Sasha and her classmates struggling with the crazy demands of their university, made me see my own coursework in its perspective. Sounds odd, but I received a lot of comfort at a busy time from a book that showed a somewhat similar, but worse, situation.

I have decided to give Vita Nostra a strong 4-stars because I loved it and I cannot wait to read its continuation. But I have to admit that the novel was a lil bit slow at times which could be related to the mysteriousness of the plot. I highly recommend it if you are on the lookout for a dark, mysterious fantasy. Something that is nothing like you have read before. You are in for quite a journey!

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Are you planning to read Vita Nostra? Have you read it already?

And also what are your thoughts on school (or university or something similar) based fantasy books? I loooove Harry Potter but I have to admit that it has been a long time since I have fully enjoyed a novel about a magic-school! Vita Nostra gave me something brand new with its dark twists and turns!

Can you recommend any other magic-school stories similar to this one? I would love to dive into more of them!

Thank you so much for reading!

– Pauliina

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