Review: Elana Gomel’s Little Sister

Amazon’s Wheel of Time feels familiar in so many ways, it’s no wonder it’s the hottest show on the streaming platform right now–and a bit of a lightning rod for fans of the genre. The beautiful, mountainous, renaissance fair setting and wizard-from-afar’s arrival to take young protagonists on a quest feels so familiar I almost turned it off. But then, Trollocs showed up. Just like the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, they represent the first nightmarish visions from a spreading, unknown evil, and they were just fresh enough in their depictions that I found myself watching enjoying the character arcs as they developed; a father who has left his kids, a young man who lost his father, etc.

If that familiar set-up seems a bit tiresome, it’s probably time you take a look at Elana Gomel’s Little Sister, a novella that takes the trope of spreading supernatural evil to a powerful new level. 

Set in an alternate version of pre-World War II Soviet Russia that is even hungrier and colder than the version you know from history class, the tale follows Svetlana, a teen girl who spends her days at school learning the plentiful definitions of the new evil spreading through the land. At night, all the world sits huddled around their mirrors while the voice of the motherland tells them news of the world.

When the newest nightmare known as Kosmops, beings able take human form, overrun the city and may or may not have taken the form of her parents, Svetlana finds herself alone with an oddly familiar soldier named Andrei who knows nothing of the darkness but is “fighting Nazis”. 

Together, the pair wind their way through a decimated countryside to the source of the motherland’s power, the voice that can be seen at night in every mirror, sharing warnings and visions. The truth, though, is often just as dark as the world outside. 

Gomel’s descriptions are both hypnotic and exacting; the horrors that populate this story equal, and often surpass, those found in Clive Barker’s early works. The world building, found-family theme, and non-romantic relationship between Svetlana and Andrei keep the pages turning while a deep insight into human nature churns beneath the surface. Gomel’s darkness is born of the notion that sometimes, scarcity breeds fascism, and that this hunger not only mirrors that of our own world, it can escape and cross over, spreading insidiously through rhetoric and the voice of belief.

A novella not of our time, but for our time, all fans of horror, weird fiction, and classic fantasy will find something new and worthy of careful consideration in Elana Gomel’s Little Sister

The darkness that spreads in classic fantasy doesn’t ride in on horseback from afar; it lives just below the subconscious of us all. And whether it breeds in fantasy, storybook worlds our own doesn’t matter. 

Evil wants out. It will find a way.

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