My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A golden bear statuette is the catalyst for a tale of two worlds in The Veil of Gold. Mir is the place where humans live, while its counterpart, Skazki, is the parallel world of stories and folkloric gods and magical creatures. The engimatic little bear was discovered discovered in a construction site in modern St. Petersburg; finding herself back in the light of day, the bear has a mission, and “marks” two people to carry it through. Rosa, whose uncle now owns the bear, entrusts Daniel, her former lover, to research her history and provenance. Daniel vanishes with his charge while traveling to the university, and frighteningly finds himself literally out of his element in Skazki, where the inhabitants’ favorite food is Mir folk. Rosa sets out to find him, along with the bear he carries, and apprentices herself to a sorceror who dwells near one of the crossing places. Their separate tales are narrated by one of the most (in)famous men in Russian history, and converge with his own story to bring about a resolution to the little bear’s mission.
Ordinary Russia pales in comparison with the vibrancy of Skazki, which author Wilkins has populated with such captivating figures as Baba Yaga, the Snow Witch, Russalki (water nymphs),and the Leshy (male woodland spirits.) She also includes some illustrious humans, among them Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, Rasputin, and the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Wilkins certainly understands how to set a stage. The plot, a classic quest in which nothing is what it seems, is a rich, enticing one. Although it does run on in places, she has managed to merge her fantastical and historical themes quite seamlessly. This is a novel sure to be enjoyed by admirers of such greats as Tolkien, Le Guin, Jordan, and Brooks.