Title: Vykup: A Novel of the Koldun
Author: Andi Marchal
Genre: Romance / Fantasy
A chance encounter at a Russian Literature course becomes the first step to a world of magic and romance for aspiring writer Kaat Collins. Through her immediate and intense connection with the enigmatic Kolya Orlov, Kaat becomes increasingly involved in the politics, conflict, and divided loyalties of the village of Vykup, a village that is mysterious and familiar at the same time, where no one and nothing is as it seems.
At first glance, it is easy to brush off this book as just another love story. The romance was certainly at the forefront of the narrative, and a large part of the book was spent in exploring and developing the potential for love between the two main characters. However, the instant attraction and byplay between Kaat and Kolya will appeal to fans of the genre, especially as it was well-crafted and well-written.
The romance felt organic and authentic, if a little bit one-dimensional. The author played up the physical aspect of the relationship: the attraction, the physical chemistry, and the very obvious sexual tension. The author could have added more nuance by showing readers what else exists between Kaat and Kolya outside of their physical intimacy. It would have given readers more of an idea of what their partnership would look like in the long run.
Individually, the two characters were well-developed and, perhaps equally important in a romance novel, likeable. Kolya is the quintessential male lead: caring, sweet, and passionate. He became more interesting as the story progressed, as we really saw how he struggled with the conflict between duty and following his heart. If that could have been more fully explored, the character would’ve been elevated above the basic fodder for the female lead into someone interesting in his own right.
Kaat is a strong female character; she knows her mind and can love within reason. Her story arc and journey to self-discovery was better explored than Kolya’s, and seeing how she ultimately found the pieces of herself that had always felt missing was a treat to read. The alternating points of view allowed readers to see what else drives and motivates these characters apart from their love for each other and added an extra layer of enjoyment to the reading experience.
The setting of Vykup created an atmospheric feel that went really well with the fantasy elements of the book. While it is understandable why weaving the village’s backstory into the narrative is secondary to developing the love story, the addition of details such as the history and the power play between the founding families of the Koldun would have increased the impact of the book’s inevitable conclusion.
Fast-paced, well-plotted, with just the right amount of humor, romance, and sexy times, this book is escapist reading at its best. Helmed by its skilful author, it provides a little something different to a story we’ve all heard before, and slots very nicely into the romantic fantasy genre. Filled with memorable characters and magic, but also grounded by a nice touch of realism and normalcy, readers will enjoy this romp into Vykup and the world of the Koldun, eager to come back for more.
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