“So, you want to know the story of our Rusalka?” begins an old woman, talking to a scholar of folklore who is recording the quaint beliefs held by those in these remote mountain villages.
“Her voice was the sound of old paper, handled seldom, in a book carefully stored in an even older library: Thin, transparent, a whisper of what once had been,” writes Berkeley author Cenizas de Rosas (a pseudonym). Much of the description in “Rusalka Moon” has just this mixture of preciousness and precision.
The folklorist begins notetaking, and this ornate floral-smelling tale of how a certain Rusalka came into being unfolds.
This Rusalka, a mythical creature who lives in the river and leaves at certain times in order to fertilize crops, was originally a young virgin named Valasha, who was simply too sweet for this world.
There are a few bluntly delicious descriptions: At one point Valasha’s intended, a farm boy named Vasily Andryef, forgets he is “standing in mud and pig shit up to his ankles,” so distracted is he by the lures of going to war. Vasily’s war experiences are portrayed in unflinching detail, especially when he’s off burning and bayoneting little children and grooming his superiors’ horses. The wry and witty jokes are lovely when they appear, and there’re other nice touches, such as a child named Masla, “pat o’ butter.”
But these pleasures come with the requisite fantasy genre clichés: “sloe-eyed maidens” and the word “silky” doing double-duty as a mood enhancer and adjective. The ground is “dappled” and blossoms are everywhere.
But I digress.
There is wisdom in this book, a hard-edged 21st century awareness of that sad rag, human nature, in which individuals and groups just simply won’t stop making deals with the devil or, in this case, with the Vodany, the frenzied creepy corpse-like creature that, apparently, dwells under the local river and captures the fluttering quivering souls of the drowned in order to turn them into Rusalkas.
At one point, the villagers try to pay off the Vodany with the sacrifice of a gleaming strong horse, that they tie up and drown in a quite vividly-described passage.
But does this bribe work?
Of course not.
According to this novel: “It is said that at the end of all things, the tears of Faeries will heal the world.” We’ll just have to wait for that.