Spring’s Arcana (The Dead God’s Heart book 1) by Lilith Saintcrow (book review)

‘Spring’s Arcana’ by Lilith Saintcrow is an urban fantasy set on our Earth right now but with a hidden supernatural world lurking out of sight populated by gods, divinities and powers who are generally not nice. As usual, we start off with the heroine living her ordinary life. Natchenka Drozdova is in her early twenties and lives with her mother, Maria, and her Uncle Leo in a little yellow house in Brooklyn, New York; an odd house squeezed between bigger blocks and not easy to find. Nat works two crappy jobs and was saving to escape her Russian mother, a tyrant. But now Ma has cancer and is dying in a hospice. Her one chance of survival, she says, is Mrs De Winter, a businesswoman, and she sends Nat to see her down Manhattan way.

All is not what it seems. Mrs De Winter is actually Baba Yaga, the Russian goddess, and her able assistant, a slick gangster type, is Dmitri Konets, god of thieves. Nat is sent on a quest to recover a powerful object that her mother stole from Baba long ago. Dmitri is to be her guide. She’s plunged into a terrifying world of supernatural figures from myth and literature who cavort in strange and bloody ways, usually in luxury. Russian gods are not keen on Jesus, who Dmitri describes as ‘a pale milksop’ but Dmitri is a nasty piece of work. On the other hand, if you consider the deeds of Zeus, Odin and others, most old gods are pretty nasty compared to JC. Even Yahweh. It’s implied that some beings are made manifest because enough people believe in them but there are others who are primal forces and eternal. Nat’s mother is more than a little old lady and Nat might be, too.

Here we have the Hero’s Journey and the Quest, classic fantasy tropes but what counts is how you put meat on those plot bones and Lilith Saintcrow does it well, finally. At first, I wasn’t gripped but by page fifty I developed a certain fondness for Dmitri Konets, his simmering temper and unsentimental ruthlessness. In a film, he’d be played by Joe Pesci, as in ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas. About halfway through, Nat became more interesting as the constant shocks and horrors toughened her up. A leaner writing style might have had me hooked sooner but Saintcrow goes in for lush description. She’s written a cartload of books and her prose is stylish and clever. However, I have limited interest in decor and fashion, though I did like her wry comments on modern life. Here’s Nat pondering work: ‘The only thing worse than low tier jobs was the depressing ease with which they were acquired. You could tell how bad a place was by the turnover rate alone.

‘Spring’s Arcana’ is available from 2 May 2023. I had an ARC paperback and only have the kindle details available so far but it will be available on paper. It’s part one of a duopoly and I look forward to part two, ‘The Salt Black Tree’. Not with breathless anticipation, to be honest, but with some interest. I want to see how it turns out. What more can a writer ask?

Eamonn Murphy

April 2023

(pub: TOR, 2023. 368 page enlarged paperback. Price: $18.99 (US), £36.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-25079-164-1)

check out websites: www.tor.com and www.lilithsaintcrow.com

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