Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko & Sergey Dyachenko | Book Review

Hi everyone. I’m rincey and this is
rincey reads. Today i’m going to be doing a book review on Vita Nostra. I’m not
going to try to pronounce the author’s names. Apologies to them, but i know i
will not do well with this. This was a book that was originally published in
Ukrainian and has recently been translated into english. It’s a first
book in a series, and I am very much hoping that they continue translating
these books because I really enjoyed it. So this is a fantasy story and you are
following this character named Sasha. She is around sixteen, seventeen years old
when the story starts. Her and her mother have gone off on like a beach vacation.
And while she’s there she keeps like noticing the strange man around. Like
she’ll see him around town and see him always sort of like nearby where they
are. Sometimes he’s like looking directly at her, things like that. And so she just
thinks he’s like kind of a creep and tries to avoid him as much as possible.
But then they end up talking to each other and he tells her that he has a
task for her and that is to every morning at like 4:00 a.m. or so to wake
up, go to the beach, take off all her clothes, swim to the buoy, and then swim
back. And then she can put on also her clothes and return home. Sasha is
obviously very confused by this task but she’s also kind of intrigued by it. And
so she ends up doing it and then when she’s like walking home she ends up
throwing up gold coins. So then after she does that task for the
first time, he approaches her and tells her to keep the gold coins and then to
continue doing that task every single day until she can’t do it anymore, or
until he tells her to stop doing it. But then you know summer ends and they
return home. She’s told that she can stop. When she returns home she gets another
task and eventually she’s told to collect all the gold coins that she has
gotten from doing these tasks. She has gotten acceptance to a very special,
specific university. It’s called the Institute of special technology and it’s
located in this like super tiny town that’s like barely even on a map. No
one’s ever heard of it before. Her mom is slightly concerned because she had like
big plans for her to go to like a major university. She was always a good student
and things like that. Sort of losing focus on that and going off to this tiny
university and no one’s after heard of before, obviously like her mom’s
concerned. But she tells her that like you know she’ll just go there for like a
couple of years and then transfer into a better school. And so obviously this
university is not really like any other university. They are given like very
specific tasks and very specific classes that don’t really make a lot of sense.
When they don’t complete the tasks that they are given or don’t complete like
their homework assignments or pass their tests very well or anything like that,
something terrible happens to their family. So this story is basically
following Sasha as well as the other students that are at this university as
they are going through this process. And Sasha, as well as you as the reader, are
trying to figure out what exactly is going on here. So I really enjoyed this
book a lot. I described this book on Goodreads as being like Harry Potter but
if Harry Potter was written by Kafka. This is also another one of those books
where when I was reading it, I kept thinking about how everyone called The
Magicians by Lev Grossman like the adult Harry Potter and that wasn’t
really that accurate. And I feel like this is a book that is closer to being an
“adult Harry Potter” than The Magicians was. So I feel like if you or someone who
read The Magicians because you got that pitch and you were disappointed by
it, I feel like this might be a good one to check out. This book is like super
heady. It’s very like philosophical in nature and very much focuses on things
that are sort of like beyond this world. And so there’s a lot of things that I
will admit that I’ve read in this book where I was like, “I don’t, I don’t really
understand what they’re saying. But I’m just sort of like along for the ride.”
I think that if you are someone who likes boarding school stories or you like
magical school stories, this would be really interesting to read. This one is
very much an adult book. Like violent things happen in this book, there’s
discussions about like sex and things like that. It’s very much like a dark
fantasy story and it has like a very unique style of writing. Like like major
props to Julia Hersey who translated this book because the writing in here is
so wonderful. This is a very slow-moving fantasy, which is the thing that I
personally really enjoy. But I know like that everyone enjoys those types of
books. So just be forewarned for that. But it’s one of those books where it
felt like the language really envelops you and you really do fall into this world
quite a bit. It’s one of those books where like I was reading it during my lunch
break and it felt like it was putting me in a trance almost when I was reading
the book, which is like such a wonderful thing to experience. This is also a very,
you know, “adult fantasy magical school” type of book. I put air quotes around
that because, you know, semantics. But I feel like it falls into that category a
lot more because Sasha herself is a very, I don’t want to say unlikable because I
actually like Sasha a lot. But she comes off as very like brass and very
aggressive. She can be very off-putting to people and she’s very off-putting to
like the other characters in the book as well. So it’s not like the author is
writing her this way and pretending like everyone also really loves her. Like
she’s also not liked by a lot of people in her book world too. But I actually
like the complexities of her as a character and her struggling to both
follow these rules and these tasks, but also questioning everything that’s
happening around her. There’s something about the way that this book is written
that really gets how it feels to study and learn and try to figure out
something really, really complicated and really, really complex and something that
is sort of like beyond your understanding. I feel like anyone who’s
sort of done any sort of higher education where you dealt with really
complicated topics or just anything that you’ve tried to study that like you
really couldn’t get it and it didn’t really make sense and then there’s sort
of like this moment where things click. The book describes that experience
really, really well. It’s actually funny because I’ve been– I read that this book
in January and like I just started a new job that has been literally like a very
steep learning curve. And there were moments where I was reading this book
where I was like, yeah, I really get this right now. Because like I was learning so much
and it felt like nothing was clicking but now I’m at the point where like some
things are starting to stick and some things are starting to make sense and
like that sort of turn and understanding is something that again is just
described really, really well in this book. So yeah, this is a book, again, I
really enjoyed this a lot. This is not a book that answers every single question.
This is again the first book in a series. And so it’s a slower paced story and a
lot of this is basically like creating the world and setting up
certain things that you can tell are going to play out in the future. This
book doesn’t necessarily end on a cliffhanger but the ending is basically
like the beginning of the next part. So just kind of be aware of that if you are
someone who gets really upset at cliff hangers. Like it’s not a cliffhanger
ending but it’s also basically like Sasha finishing this section of her life
and about to start the next section of her life. So yeah, I gave it a
4 out of 5 stars. Really enjoyed this a lot, very excited for more books in this
series because this is one of those books that I feel like really
encapsulate magical schools for adults really well. So if you read Vita Nostra,
feel free to leave a comment down below letting me know your thoughts on it,
whether you liked it or disliked it. I’m happy to hear dissenting opinions as
long as they’re respectful. Or if you have any questions about the book, feel
free to leave that down in the comment section as well. So yeah, that’s all I
have for now and thanks for watching.

13 thoughts on “Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko & Sergey Dyachenko | Book Review

  1. Awesome. Love the review. I find it interesting that you like how slowly it builds up – feels like it's cooking slowly. I'm putting this on my TBR pile and will definitely keep you posted on my thoughts. Maybe do a video and tag you when that happens. Thanks for sharing this. PS. I went down the rabbit hole while researching more on the writers and found a recommendation of Ursula Guin's Wizard of Earth Sea (previously suggested by Zadie Smith in her collection Feel Free). So yeah, definitely checking both out. Hope to finish reading them before Fire and Blood. I'm saving that for the GoT tv series final season is through. Looking forward to your next one.

  2. I CAN'T wait to read this book based on your recommendation! I just finished Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett and felt a similar way about how it put me in a trance while reading it. Usually I get distracted during my subway commute while reading, but not with this book. Definitely check it out. Very interesting magic system.

  3. I saw that the authors were Ukrainian and thought to myself: YESSSS I'll find Polish translations of the next volumes so I won't have to wait for the English translation. They only translated the first one, though 🙁 Also, I recommend googling their photo – it somehow seems fitting they have a picture with a cat that looks like Master and Margarita's Behemoth.

  4. Interesting one for sure. It was just a bit too weird for me. It started well but the transformation stuff that occurred later in the book just didn't work imo. Maybe the rest of the series will put some of my misgivings into context.

  5. While I agree with what you said about writing and atmosphere, I just didn't really like the book. I didn't want to be in that world.

  6. You describe it beautifully. Reading the book was like falling under a spell, or being in a trance. The writing was exquisite. I cannot wait for the second book.

  7. Great review! I read this book in January as well and loved it. I loved the language and all of the philosophical concepts and, like you, was not sure if I understood every single thing along the way but loved the way it made me think about things and keep my mind open. In fact, I had to reread the ending a couple of times to get a better sense of what happened but I am SO looking forward to the second book. I’m not sure that I agree that it was as slow-moving as you make it out to be. I thought the novel was very well-paced. Like you, I liked the character of Sasha who, as you say wasn’t an extremely likable person, but I found many aspects of her personality to which I could totally relate. In fact, I thought all of the characters in the book were well-drawn and interesting. Anyway, again, great review!

  8. This is my new fav book of all time. I'm legit learning Russian now so I can read their 26 other works. They have one other book in English called The Scar and it was really great too

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