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This magical debut novel ties together mystery, romance and mythology in a Princeton-set tale reminiscent of both L.J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries and Stephenie Meyers' Twilight. While there are no vampires in this tale, there are different kinds of otherworldly creatures. Zourkova links Bulgarian legends of the Samodivi or "wildalones" -- forest witches who beguile and entrap men - to Greek stories of maenads, to masterful effect.
Thea Slavin is a freshman at Princeton, far away from her Bulgarian family. Unknown to her, her older sister Elza had disappeared from Princeton years before. When she discovers this, she obsessively searches for traces of Elza and what could have happened to her. As Thea investigates, family secrets begin to reveal themselves, in a dark, fantastical narrative.
Thea is a piano prodigy, and in her first performance at Princeton, she attracts the attention of a pair of darkly attractive brothers, both of whom enchant her. This love triangle is dangerous and sensual, colouring her experience and changing her behaviour, not always in a positive way. This element of the storyline definitely leans toward the gothic, with the kind of dangerous, possessive male characters so common in popular fiction currently. Rhys and Jake are also piano prodigies, and as Thea comes to discover, they have ties to her sister&hellipbut what those are, and how they will play out in her own life, is one of the mysteries that Thea has to uncover amidst secrecy and misdirection.
This is a suspenseful and slightly supernatural story of a young woman facing the unknown, both the darkly mysterious and the banal, everyday expectations of life as an American undergraduate. Both elements are far from her more innocuous Bulgarian childhood, and Thea must find a balance for herself in order to move forward with her life.
Readers who have enjoyed previous tales of mysterious families and supernatural elements, complete with angsty first love (or first obsession) will also like this one. It reads very visually, and with some intense emotional and steamy scenes. This novel is so much in the mold of earlier stories that it would not surprise anyone if it gets optioned for film; the influence is readily evident to readers familiar with this kind of gothic storytelling. Its difference lies in the strength of Zourkova's writing, especially her ability to evoke the realistic side of her Princeton setting, where she herself spent her own undergraduate years.
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