47North, 2017, 253 pages
Matrona lives in an isolated village, where her life is centered on pleasing her parents. She's diligent in her chores and has agreed to marry a man of their choosing. But a visit to Slava, the local tradesman, threatens to upend her entire life.
Entering his empty house, Matrona discovers a strange collection of painted nesting dolls - one for every villager. Fascinated, she can't resist the urge to open the doll with her father's face. But when her father begins acting strangely, she realizes Slava's dolls are much more than they seem.
When he learns what she's done, Slava seizes the opportunity to give Matrona stewardship over the dolls - whether she wants it or not. Forced to open one of her own dolls every three days, she falls deeper into the grim power of Slava's creations. But nothing can prepare her for the profound secret hiding inside the fifth doll.
This was a pleasant middling fantasy reminiscent of Brandon Sanderson, which makes me curious about the parallels - what is it about Mormon fantasy authors who write in a certain way? Charlie N. Holmberg's story starts out in a pleasant if banal Russian village and a dairy maid betrothed to a decent, hardworking, passionless guy, but she's secretly in lust with the hot young woodworker.
Then she goes poking around in the local mysterious tradesman's house, and finds he has a collection of matrioshka dolls fashioned after every resident of the village, including her. He discovers her nosying about, makes her open her doll, and things get strange and increasingly twisty from there.
The magic system was carefully thought out (again, like Sanderson), and the plot goes in a direction I didn't expect, though the clues were there from the beginning, but this read like a short story stretched out to fill a novel, and nothing ever really felt challenging or awesome.
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