Review: Three short stories by N C Stow – The Leshy, The Kupala Night, and Voopyre

All of these short stories are based off of Russian folklore, which I’ve never explored before, and as well as introducing me to new concepts and ideas, I learnt a few new words too:

Izba – a traditional log house of rural Russia, with an unheated entrance room and a single living /sleeping room heated by a clay or brick stove.

Pech – a large stove used not only to cook with, but also to heat the izba. They normally have a nook (the small space between wall and stove) where small children can sleep to stay warm.

Although these terms aren’t explained in detail, you get the idea of what they are quite quickly from their usage, so it doesn’t interrupt the story flow in any way.

Now let’s get to the actual review (before I get distracted and end up running away with the fairies). I’ll start with The Leshy, which is the first one I read and I believe the first one to be published. This story was very poetically written, with beautiful imagery and strong characters, despite its length. Without giving away too many spoilers, the plot focuses on the onset of Winter, a spirit. Winter kills the Leshy, a tree spirit, and Mavka, a young girl, wakes up having seen this happen in her dream. She the ends up being summoned by Winter herself, a summons that she can’t refuse.

I felt there were a lot of whimsical, magical touches to this piece that reminded me a lot of more well-known fairytales, but this story had the edge in that it stayed with me for a long time after I’d finished reading it.

I read The Kupala Night next, and as with The Leshy, spirits/gods played a large part in the story. This time, however, the focus was on Night looking for his true wife, Day. Kupala refers to a night of traditional celebratory dances, of which there are six. However, Varvara, a girl who has just come of age to go to the Kupala games, is warned by her grandmother (or ‘Baba’) not to stay for the seventh dance, which confuses Varvara because there isn’t one…at least not one that she knew of.

This wasn’t written as poetically as The Leshy, but there was still a lot of strong imagery and a soft touch of romance, too, plus a nice twist at the end.

Voopyre is the newest of these three stories, and though I did enjoy it, something about it just didn’t click as strongly with me as the other two. I can’t fault the writing, it’s just as good as The Leshy and The Kupala Night, but there’s still something that didn’t gel. Then again, I was very tired when I read it and I did get interrupted quite a bit…

Anyway, in Voopyre the story focuses on Zverovoy, the beast master/spirit as he takes an interest in a girl who walks through his forest. But he can’t get to her, so he calls upon the Voopyre, a creature that can tear apart the Kerchief of the world, to do just that. Zverovoy knows that to save her friends, the girl will need to call on him to find the Voopyre to replace the torn part of Kerchief, and thus he will see her again.

It was interesting and the idea that “‘Earth is a headscarf, and we are the thread'” really gripped my imagination, as did many other parts of this story. So, even though it wasn’t my favourite of the three (my favourite is The Leshy, because it’s just so beautiful both in how it’s written and what it’s about) it’s still worth a read.

They all are, in fact.