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The Veil of Gold    by Kim Wilkins order for
Veil of Gold
by Kim Wilkins
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Veil of Gold, Kim Wilkins (author of The Autumn Castle) gives us an unusual fantasy that blends modern life with Russian history and folktales. It all begins in an otherworldly realm where storyteller Papa Grigory (who has had many names in his long, long existence) lives with his very beloved, very frail daughter Totchka.

In St. Petersburg, beautiful, clever, reckless Rosa Kovalenka assists her wealthy Uncle Vasily with his construction business and closely guards the dark secret that overshadows her life. Then one of the construction crew discovers a gold bear statue in the walls of the bathhouse they're renovating. Wanting to know its provenance and value, Rosa contacts her ex-lover (who still adores her). Cautious, kind, timid researcher Daniel St. Clair is working with a film crew in Novgorod. Daniel gets a ride from Em Hayward, the tough, pragmatic writer and presenter of the TV series he's been working on. Each of the three feel a tingle from the bear, but no-one else does.

They decide that Daniel and Em should take the statue to Arkhangelsk university for evaluation and that a film crew will meet them there - but the bear (whose prior existence through Russian history is gradually revealed through flashbacks) has other plans. It draws Daniel and Em into Skazki, a perilous world of stories filled with magic and monsters, where they must make their way towards a feared Snow Witch. Meanwhile, back in their world, Rosa follows their trail to the edge of the otherworld, which she's unable to enter. Instead she takes a job on a nearby farm with a volkhv (sorceror), Anatoly Chenchikov, who derides her weak magic and offers to teach her to make it strong enough to cross the veil.

As Daniel and Em starve and suffer a variety of perilous encounters in cruel Skazki, Rosa discovers that all is not as it seems with the Chenchikovs and their daughter's dire illness. Time passes and she becomes desperate to win back enough magic to cross over and find her lover. When she does, she's faced with more lies and a hard decision, with her own fate and that of her world in the balance. The Veil of Gold is a most unusual, well told fantasy that mixes Russian history and folklore with a modern tale of doomed lovers and an eternal one of paternal devotion.

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