Interview with Author Irina Lopatina on Siberian Seasons

[image of Irina Lopatina]

Today’s guest on Reading Reality is Irina Lopatina. She is here to tell us a little bit about her writing life, and her life in Siberia. And, of course, to talk about her fascinating debut epic fantasy, White Raven: the Sword of Northern Ancestors.

But before you take a look at the review, let’s hear from Ms. Lopatina …

Marlene: Please tell us a little about yourself. What is life like in Siberia?

Irina: On the one hand, when living in Siberia, you are in quite civilized conditions. For example, like many others here, I grew up in a comfortable apartment house, went to kindergarten and to school, studied at the university and had interesting work. But once you move away from the town, away from usual tourist routes, you find yourself in a completely different world, in the world that existed millions of years before you and that is able to progress even if there are no humans here at all. Siberia is so majestic that it quickly corrects people’s idea about themselves as “kings of nature.”

Marlene: Could you describe a typical day of writing? Do you work from a detailed outline or do you just let the writing flow wherever it takes you?

Irina: Yes, when I work I always have a plan; it is not too detailed but supports the logic of the plot. First and foremost, this plan is made in order to “fix” the story, because if I let the writing flow freely, I will certainly confuse myself and my readers. It is sometimes difficult to control one’s own imagination. 😉

Marlene: What is your favorite scene in White Raven?

Irina: I like the moments when Vraigo wanders in the forest and communicates with evil forest creatures. For example, I like the scene with the yaga. This forest witch turned out to be an amusing character who is supposed to be extremely evil, but in fact she is not. She is a sort of old grumpy neighbor who knows everything about everybody and is sometimes even ready to play pranks, but overall, she is a pretty charming creature. There is a role of a comic old woman in the Russian theater. My yaga would succeed in such a role.

Marlene: You’ve done something unusual in White Raven, you’ve taken your fantasy characters and brought them to the modern 21st century for part of the story. What inspired you to make this twist in your epic fantasy?

[book cover for White Raven]Irina: Yes, there are quite conflicting opinions of this turn of events. However, this travel to our time is an essential and logical part of the White Raven story. It is not caused by a desire to show originality, especially because such ideas are quite widespread in literature and in cinema. One of the key questions that are raised throughout the story is that of magic. Let us suppose that there was magic in ancient times (all the legends and myths tell us about this)–– where did it disappear from our world? While in the 21st century, Vraigo finds only small remnants of this miracle, which are concentrated in certain ancient objects, places and people with special abilities. Honestly, I really wanted to think about this subject, and looking at the matter from two points of view (the ancient hero and our contemporary friend) seemed to me more complete.

Marlene: You’ve said that you tried not to follow the style of other authors, but who are your favorites?

Irina: If we talk about fantasy, I like the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Stanislaw Lem, and Ursula Le Guin. But I don’t think it is necessary to mimic their style.

Marlene: You’ve said that you enjoy traveling. Is there any special place that you’ve always dreamed of traveling to? Why that place?

Irina: Actually, I almost never travel to any particular destination. My style of traveling is rather a journey or cruise. I want to see everything. Perhaps, ideally, I want to go on a world tour!

Marlene: What projects do you have planned for the future?

Irina: As a rule, I do not talk about my unfinished projects. It is difficult to discuss what doesn’t yet have its final form. But each of these projects has some sort of a key idea that makes its way through the texture of the story. In White Raven it was a struggle (perhaps, that is why the story turned out to be trilogy – the process of struggle is endless), but now I would really like to write about freedom.

Marlene: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Irina: As usual, at my computer. 😉

Marlene: The seasons in Siberia are extremely different from one another. Which one is your favorite?

Irina: Well, I have a rather complex attitude about seasons. I love each of them, and I always look forward to them. I look forward to the first snowfall, and then the time the snow will melt. I wait impatiently for summer, which manages to annoy me in the end. And, in fact, who will endure six months of cold winter? Or the unbearable summer heat with the very distant prospect of New Year holidays? There is a song in Russia: “I always miss something – winter, summer, autumn, spring.”

What an interesting song! But the weather sounds a lot like Anchorage, and I don’t think I ever missed those six months of winter, although some people must have. 😉

Thank you so much for being such a terrific guest!

Review: White Raven, the Sword of Northern Ancestors by Irina Lopatina

There is a fine tradition in epic fantasy of young men with wizardly mentors who go off in search of magic swords. The mentors usually die much too soon, and those swords are necessary to fight off unspeakable evil. Irina Lopatina’s debut novel, White Raven adds some wintry new elements to that fine old tradition.

And so she should be. The folk traditions that Ms. Lopatina draws her inspirations from are  not the usual Celtic flavor. Ms. Lopatina’s tales are much colder and wilder, from the seasonal swings of her native Siberia.

But the epic begins with a young prince, Vraigo, and an old wizard, Agar. Vraigo is a prince, the nephew of Vlady, Grand Duke of Areya, the great northern land. Agar’s death by magic is the first strike in a long war. Monsters have come to Areya, not in ones or twos, but great hordes of them.

There is, of course, a great sword, Urart, to fight the black monsters. Urart is a magical artifact, its power greatest against the unnatural foes. But these monster hordes have an intelligence–something is driving them. And they find a way to infiltrate the palace and steal Urart. With it, they steal any hope the humans, and other free peoples, have of defeating them.

Vraigo is a young man. He has not followed the path that his uncle expects of him. Instead of becoming a war leader, he spends his time in the forests, exploring with the druids and learning the ways of the forest creatures. He knows that the monsters are stronger than even his uncle suspects. But because he has not exactly been an obedient nephew or subject, no one is willing to listen to him.

Vraigo is also a magic user, if somewhat untutored. Magic users are not totally trusted; another strike against him. So when the great sword goes missing, Vraigo knows exactly what he must do, he must follow the trail and get it back, wherever that might lead. No matter how unfamiliar or magical a place the evil thief might have taken it.

Even if that place is as strange as 21st century Earth.

Escape Rating B: There were times when Vraigo reminded me of another young hero with a wizard mentor and a magic sword, a fellow named Arthur Pendragon, but that’s a different tradition. Also a little bit of Luke Skywalker. Which only goes to show that this hero’s journey is universal. (Even Harry Potter if you squint)

What makes White Raven stand out from the crowd is the setting and the mythology. On this side of the world we don’t see much fantasy based on Russian or Slavic myths, so the new-to-us landscape and bestiary is cool and different. Everything sparkles a bit because the world works slightly differently. Climate changes a lot.

Vraigo’s fish-out-of-water tale when he ports to 21st century Siberia makes for a fun switch on the fantasy. It also involves an entirely different set of characters in a way that will probably come up later in the series, because it seems like the author is foreshadowing that the forces behind the monsters are planning to branch out to other worlds than Vraigo’s original one. They are evil with a capital “E”.

At the same time, there are a lot of plot points going on. Vraigo’s story is a big one. Evil is on the march. Vraigo is involved with the druids, the forest people, and he is the nephew of the Grand Duke. There are political implications. Vraigo has three cousins, one of whom is the heir to the Grand Duchy, one is a magic user. And more politics. And lots of magic theory into the bargain.

Then the story moves to 21st century Earth, adding yet more complication. There was probably enough material for two whole books here. This is good epic fantasy, but perhaps it would have been that much better if it had been allowed to be a bit more epic.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 8-12-12

Have blog, will travel. I’m in Pittsburgh, PA, and the HP Notebook Smart Power Adapter turns out to be both smart and pretty darn adaptable.

We’re in Pittsburgh for a family re-union (part of me wants to type family “re-onion”–layers, tears–and it’s not even my family) and I only packed half the power adapter for the laptop. These things happen in the best families.

Best Buy is everywhere. Us geeks really have taken over the world. Spare power adapters don’t actually SAY they cover a two-year old laptop. But the HP turns out to be universal. Here we are.

And is there ever a ton of stuff going on at Reading Reality! After the usual Monday Madness that is Ebook Review Central, there will be three author interviews this week. What was I thinking?

Tuesday my guest will be Jane Kindred, the author of The Fallen Queen and The Midnight Court, the first two parts of her House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy. Jane’s going to talk about angels and demons, politics and history, love and kink, and the Snow Queen. Intrigued? Stop by on Tuesday.


While this isn’t quite Russia week, my guest on Wednesday will be Irina Lopatina, who doesn’t just write about Russian folklore, she actually lives in Siberia. Really, truly. As part of a tour from TLC Books, I had the opportunity to interview her as well as review her debut fantasy, White Raven: The Sword of Northern Ancestors.


Things should warm up a bit (a lot!) on Thursday, when my guest will be Eve Langlais, for an interview and a review of her latest book, A Demon and His Witch. All of Eve’s stories are on the steamy side, but Demon is the start of Eve’s new series, Welcome to Hell, so, I expect things to be nice and toasty heading into the weekend.

As if Atlanta hasn’t been hot enough this summer!