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Julie Mathison
Elena the Brave

From award-winning indie author Julie Mathison comes the sequel to BookLife Prize Semi Finalist VASILISA.

Old Rus, a land of witches and ogres, bogatyr warriors and six-headed dragons, magic and myth. A land lurking below the waking world, a fabled land – except for the chosen few.

It’s 1942, and the world is at war. Elena Petrovna Volkonsky is just a schoolgirl in a Pennsylvania steel town, the Russia of her forebears long forgotten – except in tales, sung by her babka in haunting tones. Elena can picture Old Rus clearly as she ponders her pet rock, its surface black and smooth, but its depths strange. Such visions! The snow-swollen Dnepr, wending southward through the wild steppe all the way to Byzantium. Vladimir of the Bright sun, ruling from glorious Kiev!. If only it were real. If only hers was not just an ordinary family in trying times. An ordinary family – with an extraordinary destiny.

Be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile, Old Rus is in crisis. A dragon flies, a maiden is captured, and the great bogatyr, Dobrynya, is tasked with her rescue. But his son, Mitya, senses treachery on all sides. How can you save a man who will not save himself? And must he venture alone, trailing his father across the steppe where warring nomads range, even to the distant peaks of the Sorochinsk Mountains? He is prepared to do just that when a strange girl appears in the prince’s stables and upends all his plans.

What happens when two worlds – and hearts – collide?

Semi Finalist

Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.75 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Mathison returns to Old Rus, the exceptionally well-constructed fantasy world introduced in VASILISA, one that blends the mythical and the historical to winning effect. 

Prose: Mathison uplifts the story with elegant phrasing, original vocabulary, and lively descriptions of both the mundane and magical. Readers will feel fully immersed in the tale from the first page to the last.

Originality: The author's captivating worldbuilding, clear knowledge of folklore, and convincing historical setting, allows Elena the Brave to stand out.

Character Development/Execution: The titular protagonist proves to be complex, spirited, and charmingly impulsive. Readers will value her growth throughout the novel, while a vibrant cast of central and side characters--human, dragon, or otherwise--further enhances the story. 

Date Submitted: July 18, 2022