Saturday, October 2, 2021

Good to be Queen?: The Dyachenkos’ The Ritual

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s novel Ритуал (The Ritual) was recommended to me as “sweet.” And I have to agree that The Ritual is sweet reading: it’s absorbing, light but thoughtful, funny, and mischievous enough in terms of very specific genre play that I’m glad I didn’t know it involves a dragon. Yes, a dragon. The Ritual involves a dragon and a princess. Well, more than one princess, with the main three (for my purposes) being sisters (hm). <Spoilers will now ensue, though I’ll go light on detail.> And so, when the dragon, Arman, starts off his ritual by abducting a princess, he flies away with the wrong one, Yuta, who’s a bit ungainly, perhaps not the damsel a prince – like, let’s say, Austin, who Yuta has a mad crush on – would be eagerest to rescue.

I’ve never read much about dragons so the dragon/princess situation wasn’t the primary attraction for me in The Ritual. (Backstory: I did have E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons as a kid but have absolutely no memory of reading it. Only this afternoon did I find the book, its yellow spine so faded I didn’t recognize it.) Even so, Ritual’s (arche)typical characters – handsome prince, three princess sisters, the dragon-human who has feelings, too – and the plotlines about love, happiness, transformations, growing up, and rescue, felt pretty familiar. What made The Ritual enjoyable was watching the Dyachenkos change, flip, and mix things up so plot twists and turns sometimes resulted in turning happy to unhappy, good to bad. And vice versa.

I’m sure I would have loved The Ritual as a young adult: Yuta’s an independent (sometimes even a bit unruly and moody) young woman who gets used to her lot and manages to settle into detention at Arman’s castle. She covertly explores. Nobody seems to be coming to her rescue so she makes the best of life in the sticks with activities like learning to read very telling prophecies engraved on stone in the castle, embroidering a towel with a fire-breathing dragon, and even asking Arman for a chance to fly on his back. (That scene’s especially sweet, almost a bit steamy.) I also need to mention the magic mirror at Arman’s castle. The mirror shows events in the greater world. Thanks to a description that includes the words паутина (a web, yes, it’s a spider’s here but even so…) and сеть (network), which are both used for the Internet, The Ritual, which dates back to the 1990s, almost feels like a prophecy (not one from the castle, ) of live streaming.

The ending of The Ritual is a bit too open-ended to say that it’s certainly happy (or otherwise) but the Dyachenkos certainly succeed in bringing Yuta, Austin, Arman, and the reader through a series of rituals involving love, disillusionment, putting aside childhood things and learning to be an adult, learning to fly, and lots of other things. And it’s sweet without crossing into treacle or saccharine territory. In short, even if The Ritual didn’t grab me quite as much as the Dyachenkos’ Vita Nostra – I’m now reading the sequel that just came out – it made for satisfying, low-stress reading during a busy time. Which is, in itself, a happy ending.

Bonus! Julia Meitov Hersey – whose English translations of the Dyachenkos’ Vita Nostra and Daughter from the Dark, are already available – has also translated The Ritual into English, though there is not yet a publication date.

Up Next: Oksana Vasyakina’s The Wound, Alexei Polyarinov’s The Reef, and a forthcoming novel by Dmitry Danilov. And the afore-mentioned sequel to Vita Nostra. Among other things.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Julia Meitov Hersey and I know each other through social media and hope to meet in real life one day.