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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

Vita Nostra | Review


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐


"Our life is brief . . .


While vacationing at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.


As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.


As she quickly discovers, the institute’s "special technologies" are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want."


 

Vita Nostra is the first book in Метаморфозы, a fantasy series written by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, and translated by Julia Meitov Hersey.


I had never heard of this book before, but it is the monthly pick for a book club I am part of so I decided to give it a shot. I went into this only knowing that it is supposed to be a dark academia with a magic school setting, which sounded intriguing, and I came out of it still not knowing anything more than that...


Somehow though, I ended up enjoying this, and I don't know why because, to be honest, I still don't know what this was about.


Let's get into the details.


 

WRITING


This was translated from either Russian or Ukrainian (I can't quite tell because there are conflicting answers). Aside from some odd phrasings, this was translated rather well as I didn't have many issues with the writing or the pacing. One thing I don't understand though is why the main character's name is Sasha when her actual name is Alexandra.


One comment I do want to make is about the structure of the story. This book is divided into three parts...and that's it. There are no chapters, just three massive chunks.



PLOT


Going into this I was worried because the book had a blurb on the cover by Lev Grossman. I did not like The Magicians, at all, and it also had a magical school setting, so I was rather cautious with my expectations.


The plot, in essence, is rather simple as it follows a girl who is manipulated into attending a mysterious and secretive school. We are thrown into a world with just as little information as her. While that amount of information doesn't really increase as the story goes on, it still works well because I don't think you are meant to understand (at least at this point in the series).


On the whole not much really happens since the plot focuses on Sasha's studies and progression, but there is this level of intrigue that kept me in the story so I wasn't bored.


The progression of the story is also done well. The story starts off a bit sinister, and once the environment changes to the school setting, things are noticeably off. But the way things shift once Sasha is immersed in that environment is very well done.


One thing I didn't like was the predictability of the plot at points. Sasha would often be told to not do something, but I realized rather quickly that she would end up doing exactly that. It wasn't the best way to introduce conflict into the story. I also was not a fan of the addition of romance, since I feel like it watered down the story a bit. That is just me though since I find romances take away more often than it adds to the story.


As for the ending, well, I was a bit flabbergasted. That was made worse when I realized that I had to live with said ending because this was the only book of the series that was translated into English.



WORLD-BUILDING


I don't really know what to talk about in this section because, quite frankly, I don't understand. The world and magic in this simply exist without explanation, so naturally, I have no idea what on earth the magic system actually entails.



CHARACTERS


I am unsure how I feel about Sasha as a character. Her transformation, or metamorphsis to be more exact, both physically and mentally was done really well (though it didn't really help her likability). But her character when she was initially introduced was a bit bland and not quite fully present. I also don't get why she was the main character. Like why is she the one to excel?



CONCLUDING THOUGHTS


After having finished reading this, I only then realized that this is part of a several-book series... of which this is the only book translated. So now I, and every person who also read this and doesn't read the original language, have to just live with the fact that I may not get any answers.


Now, I leave you with this image from Knives Out, which sums up my feelings perfectly.



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