Book Review: ‘Daughter from the Dark’ by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

Authors: Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

Translated by Julia Meitov Hersey

Original Published in 2020

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Alexey, aka DJ Aspirin, finds a young girl (Alyona) on his doorstep. He takes Alyona into his apartment to save her from a group of drugged up youths and their Pitbull. In the morning Alyona refuses to leave. Despite Alexey’s various attempts to get rid of her, he finds himself forced to become her guardian until Alyona can play a piece of violin music to summon her brother. From Alyona, to her murderous teddy bear protector, to the people hunting her – nothing is as it seems.

Daughter from the Dark is a low fantasy novel with heavy thriller elements. While I normally enjoy low fantasy as a genre, for me the inclusions in this novel were far too subtle. I accept that this was an intentional choice by authors Marina and Sergey Dyachenko but, by only using fantasy as a backstory element, I often couldn’t tell that I was supposed to be reading a fantasy novel. Described as ‘magical realism’ I would instead categorise Daughter from the Dark as primarily a moody thriller novel.

The story is divided into three parts – when Alexey doesn’t believe Alyona, when he accepts Alyona’s presence, and when Alexey is actively helping her. In any story it is always great to see the protagonist evolve and his character progression felt natural and coincided with events in the story.

The novel relies a lot on mysteries and questions to drive the plot and keep the reader interested. Who is Alyona? Where is she from? Who or what is her teddy bear Mishutka? And who are the people hunting her? Throughout the novel we and Alexey are given several different explanations and we have to decide which version we think is the most likely. In Daughter from the Dark, answers are typically implied rather than spelt out for us. Trying to work out these mysteries was the best part of the story for me and I appreciate the Dyachenkos placed us in Alexey’s shoes as together we attempt to understand what is happening.

That being said Daughter from the Dark was sadly not a book I enjoyed reading.  As well as the limited fantasy elements I’ve already mentioned, I really disliked both Alexey and Alyona as characters. As a reader I found it quite exhausting to follow two constantly negative protagonists. Throughout most of the novel Alexey and Alyona are either angry, arguing or ignoring each other. The only break we get is when Alexey is working as a radio host or DJ however I didn’t find his life interesting enough to help me enjoy the story. Because I didn’t care about either character I couldn’t get invested in what was happening to them.

Daughter from the Dark is a well written story and, from my research, I know I lot of people like the book. While I can appreciate the literary techniques used in its creation, I personally can’t enjoy a story where I disliked the characters so much.  Unfortunately this was not the book for me.

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