Daughter from the Dark by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

A disturbingly captivating read throughout, forcing us to ask questions about identity, how we understand ourselves, and what is necessary for the process of creation
Daughter from the Dark book cover

The Dyachenkos, Marina and Sergey, are perhaps best known in the English-speaking world as the authors of Vita Nostra, a dark and compelling tale that mixes metaphysics and philosophy with urban fantasy in unique ways. Joined again by translator Julia Meitov Hersey, this new English translation of Daughter from the Dark returns readers to their dark and compelling way of telling stories, while swapping metaphysics for questions of creativity, music, and creation.

This is one that just demands to be read, compelling from the first pages. The story begins with DJ Aspirin meeting a young girl, Alyona, one night near his apartment. From the first moments of this encounter it is obvious that there is something dark and mysterious about her. The story is beautiful and introspective as it lingers in the interactions between Aspirin and Alyona, and dwells particularly on his seeming inability to remove her from his home or retrieve any agency over his own life. In this way, the story certainly has elements of horror to it, though I feel like it might be more properly described as a dark, modern fairy tale. One of the strongest elements of the story-telling is the strong characterization of Aspirin. We see the entire story unfold from his perspective and share in his own feelings of helplessness. The book also plays with questions of perception and identity and how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how we and others perceive the world and commonly observed events. There is an element to the writing and storytelling that feels almost whimsical at moments, but darkly so.

I can't speak of weaknesses, so much as things that didn't work for me in the story. This is a story that doesn't rush. It walks slowly through the narrative, allowing you to savor each scene. While this largely worked for me, given the overall feel and ambiance, there were a couple moments where I felt like maybe the pacing wasn't quite right. Not that it needed to be faster - not every story is an action-adventure! - but that maybe some more focus needed to be given to this over here, or perhaps a little less attention spent on that detail there. But it's hard to define exactly what I mean. While I think Aspirin and Alyona were well characterized, I didn't feel much emotional connection to either. While I think that's fine, it means that in the end this was a novel that left me thinking more than it did feeling. I like novels that make me think, but I tend to enjoy them even more when I'm left feeling and thinking.

Daughter from the Dark is a disturbingly captivating read throughout, forcing us to ask questions about identity, how we understand ourselves, and what is necessary for the process of creation. Perhaps what's more, it subtly nudges the reader to consider what one is willing to give up in order to create. This is another excellent read from the Dyachenkos!

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