2013-10: Prince Ivan, by Peter Morwood.

So, I have read my first new book for the 2013 ten!

Well, new to me. It was Peter Morwood’s ‘Prince Ivan’, published in 1990 according to Amazon. I recently obtained the ebook, and I haven’t read Mr Morwood’s work before, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Overall I enjoyed the book. I like Russian fairy-tales, and there were some interesting variations on the usual themes. For example, Morwood’s Prince Ivan isn’t the youngest of three brothers, but instead has three older sisters, all of whom marry sorcerers who later help Ivan in his troubles. For Ivan has troubles, and though they’re largely a product of his own poor judgement (as they usually are in these stories), he actually makes his worst mistake through a piece of misguided kindness while under magical influence, so it’s not as bad as it could be. The Too Stupid To Live trope is the one that drives me wilder than any other. There’s plenty going on – there are several setbacks, pretty major ones, not just the resolution of a single problem then straight to the happily-ever-after that can make some fairy-tale retellings so dull.

I also enjoyed the language. The prose is very conversational, in the style of old-fashioned stories for children, and I have a nostalgic fondness for that particular style. Morwood peppers the dialogue with Russian words and phrases, to add colour, which works well enough but is sometimes overdone. His creepy description of Baba Yaga’s house with its fence of human bones is particularly effective, though.

All that being said, I wouldn’t rate the book over three stars. The plot drags in places, and just didn’t hold my interest all that well in other places. The characters aren’t especially well-developed, though they’re faithful representations of their fairy-tale archetypes, and I found myself more concerned with Ivan’s horse than with Ivan at one point, since Ivan was so obviously perfectly safe. If you’re looking to read about Tsarevich Ivan, Koschei the Undying, and their usual supporting cast, I’d recommend Mercedes Lackey’s ‘Firebird’ instead. The prose is stronger, the characters better drawn and more personable, and it has much more convincing peril for poor Ivan.

(Cross-posted to Goodreads)