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A Circle of Salt Paperback – March 5, 2015
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Essentially, A Circle of Salt it is a collection of fairy tales and fables told through the actions and narrative of one character, Vasilissa. She's a fairy who gets banished from her realm for being a proud and conceited creature. She has to atone for that over lifetimes among the world of men, so each fairy tale is told as part of her experience in atoning for her lack of empathy, humility, and kindness. It's lush, immersive, and magical, without being overwrought.
I can't say I'm always fond of current writing styles, even in genres I like. It tends to be, I don't know too... contemporary? I'll come back to that sometime when I better understand what I am trying to say haha. Anyway, my favorite thing about this book is that Weaver has written it in that wonderful old-fashioned style that goes beyond nostalgia. It really communicates the moral themes you'd read in classic fairy tales in a new way.
The section I ADORED the most was the story called The Treasure. It was so beautiful as Vasilissa encounters God and Christ in church and experiences themes of grace, love, salvation, and death. I could almost taste that section of the book because it was so rich! The visuals in this book remind me a lot of one of my favorite books of all time, The Last Unicorn. Likewise, I see a lot of the imagery in the classic Rankin and Bass or Japanese animation forms.
I applaud Weaver for publishing independently (rock fist). I'm all about independent art. My only issue with this book is that the formatting is kind of strange, and there are no page numbers! Hard to keep track of where you're at or watching your bar on Goodreads haha. Other than that, it's wonderful. ♥
Regarding my rating... The book came to my attention through the author's father. I am a reader, generally going through 3-5 fantasy / science fiction books a week. Like movies, I re-read books I like and I don't finish books that don't capture my attention. A 4 star means I enjoyed it, I will probably re-read it again at a later date, and some of my friends may enjoy it as well.
The story is told from Vasilissa's point of view, as a memoir. On the first page, Vasilissa introduces herself in the second paragraph and gives a very short overview of her life.
Folk tales often present marvelous, miraculous, and magical events happening to ordinary people. This is a truly wonderful story from the flip side: Vasilissa is a fairy, somewhat indifferent to mortal lives, who wields great power but who must learn compassion and understanding through serious mistakes, punishment, and hard trials. She has frightening adventures, meets interesting characters from shallow to deep, and there are moments of tremendous beauty. She starts out rather cold and becomes much more sympathetic through the course of the book.
But oddly, that second paragraph - which reassures us that she has been through a great deal - functions to somewhat undermine the emotional impact of the story, acting as just a little bit of a spoiler. There are a number of comments where she continues the tale as a memory rather than an experience, placing her interconnected stories solidly in the realm of fairy tale, and therefore just slightly removed from true intimacy or immediacy. Vasilissa is the person we are truly to know in the story, but since she makes it out alive enough to recount her adventures in retrospect, there is little fear that she will be utterly destroyed, and that is the most human thing about us: we fear oblivion more than death.
So this story does not really have the emotional immediacy that would have completely captivated my heart or flooded my dreams. But, if you are in the mood for something that feels like a true fairy tale, Circle of Salt is perfect. I'd love to read more by this author!
E. J. Weaver does an amazing job weaving together Russian fairy tales into a compelling narrative about proud Vasilissa, one of the Folk cast out of the Summer Realm and forced to live among humans.
I was completely fascinated with how NON-human Vasilissa is at first: she shape-shifts into a horse and a fish. She raises towers from the ground. But she finds herself slowly caught up in the affairs of certain humans who she meets and helps along the way, even while she's being hunted by the terrifying Koschei, the Deathless. Koschei is the servant of the witch Baba Yaga, who wants to use Vasilissa to open the door to the Summer Realm…
The book is broken into sections instead of chapters: Vasilissa the Proud, Sivka-Birka, The Fisherman and His Wife, etc., and each section is a mini-story in and of itself, following the thread of Vasilissa's long sojourn in the human world. The stories are steeped in beauty and terror and joy, sorrow and longing, but love and hope, too.
A CIRCLE OF SALT kind of broke my heart, a little, but in a good way. Read it on a rainy afternoon with a big cup of tea and a cat nearby for snuggling if you get too teary.