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Rosa And The Veil Of Gold
Kim Wilkins
Gollancz hardcover £14.99

review by Gary Couzens

English-born Australian writer Kim Wilkins first came to many people's attention with her fourth adult novel Angel Of Ruin (re-titled Fallen Angel in the UK). That was a dark fantasy mostly set in the 17th century featuring John Milton and his three daughters as characters. Unknown to their father, the three sisters are dealing with a fallen angel of the title, who has particular reasons for preventing the poet from completing his magnum opus Paradise Lost. What impressed me in this novel were some good ideas, detailed research and a clear, compulsively readable writing style that suits extended novel lengths (Fallen Angel is over 500 pages long) without seeming unduly padded. I read it in a week, and I'm not a fast reader.

Wilkins's next three adult novels form a thematic trilogy called the 'Europa Suite'. Each novel is a standalone, a contemporary fantasy involving encounters between this world and one derived from European mythology and folklore. The Autumn Castle was set in Berlin and the world of faerie. Giants Of The Frost takes in a Norwegian Arctic weather station and characters from Norse myth. (Readers should be aware that the American edition of Giants has the ending altered to make it more upbeat.) The third novel, Rosa And The Veil Of Gold, is set in Russia and appears as one of the first titles in its publisher's Gollancz Romancz line.

Rosa Kovalenka has returned to Russia on the break-up of her relationship with Daniel, a historian. She is helping her uncle when workers discover a golden statue of a bear hidden in the walls of an old bathhouse. Rosa has second sight and recognises that there is more to this bear than at first appears. She calls on Daniel, who is in Russia working on a TV documentary, and asks his advice on authenticating it. Daniel and a colleague, Em, suggest taking it to Daniel's former professor in Archangelsk, two days' drive away. But their car is found abandoned with Daniel and Em nowhere to be found. Under the bear's influence, they have slipped from this world into that of Russian myth...

There's a point early on where you may think if Wilkins will sustain this for the 480 pages of the novel. But not to worry, Rosa goes in search of Daniel and Em, and encounters a family in the woods who seem to know the secret to crossing between the two worlds. Meanwhile, Daniel and Em tackle revenants, water spirits and - in a tense sequence that reveals Wilkins' horror roots - the evil witch Baba Yaga, on their way to find the Snow Witch who may be able to help them find the way home.

Typically for Wilkins, there's also a second narrative line, told in first person when the bulk of the novel is in third. An old man called Papa Grigory tells stories of Russian history and the origins of the golden bear to his daughter. How this ties in with the main storyline I'll leave you to discover, though it's certainly an ingenious 'alternative' history of Russia - and even Rosa's second sight, which at first might seem like standard fantasy window-dressing, is given a satisfactory explanation.

After Giants Of The Frost, which I found a little disappointing, Wilkins is playing at full strength here. What is remarkable is a complete lack of twee-ness: Wilkins' first three novels were in the horror genre, and there's still horror here, acting as an astringent to the mix. Wilkins can be unsparing - characters die, and others end the novel in traps of their own making and choice; so best not expect an overwhelmingly happy ending. But you do have a thoroughly absorbing read on the way there.
Rosa and the Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins

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