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When Thea Slavin comes to Princeton from Bulgaria for her freshman year, she is following in the footsteps of her mysterious older sister, Elza. Her attempts to fit into the culture of American elite higher education are secondary to the strange things that begin happening to her on campus and the magical world she discovers, connecting her to Elza. WILDALONE, Krassi Zourkova’s debut novel, follows Thea from her home in Eastern Europe to Princeton and from a childhood of secrets to a coming of age full of astonishing revelations.

As a small girl, Thea never knew she had an older sister. Despite her parents’ best efforts to protect her from what happened to Elza, she first finds the piano that Elza played and then ends up at the same American college studying with some of the same professors. The beautiful and musically gifted Thea feels her sister's presence at Princeton, but Elza has been dead for many years. Thea is haunted, too, by a handsome and enigmatic man who appears at piano performances and disappears just as quickly. When she meets Rhys, she is drawn into a passionate but confusing affair with him. At the same time, she begins to unravel the perplexing story of Elza.

"[T]he mysteries and backstories are compelling and the reliance on mythologies, especially the mostly unfamiliar samodivi tales, are inventive and the highlights of the novel."

But Elza's story and Thea's life at Princeton are complicated by the role of Rhys in both their lives, not to mention with Rhys' brother, Jake. The love triangle among Thea, Rhys and Jake becomes increasingly complex and Thea's emotions more and more muddled as the novel progresses. The plot is not a simple romance or mystery, however, because Zourkova's tale is interwoven with threads from Greek and Balkan mythology. The central myth and titular reference is the samodivi, or the wild, powerful forest nymphs of Balkan folklore, translated into English as “wildalones.”

As much as the book is about Thea's coming of age, of the romance she finds in America, and of the music she uses to express herself, it is also about supernatural myths come to life. The truth about Elza can only be realized when Thea understands it in light of the myths of the samodivi and of Orpheus and Dionysus. The result is that WILDALONE is a lushly layered novel, full of sensual relationships, harrowing encounters and secrets brought to light.

The book incorporates several genres and presents them in a dramatic and sometimes breathless manner. Thea is a wide-eyed innocent in a world of deception and inexplicable actualities. It is romantic in both senses of the word, but also otherworldly and tense. The overt sensuality and thick plot may not appeal to all readers, but the mysteries and backstories are compelling and the reliance on mythologies, especially the mostly unfamiliar samodivi tales, are inventive and the highlights of the novel. Zourkova's knowledge of music and art is apparent, thus the passages where she lingers on visual or musical descriptions are successful.

Krassi Zourkova is a talented new writer, and her style undoubtedly will grow more subtle with time.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 8, 2015

by Krassi Zourkova

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2015
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Supernatural
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062328034
  • ISBN-13: 9780062328038