The Balance: Kev Harrison
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
Folklore has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, so when I noticed the Baba Yaga mentioned in Kev Harrison’s novella, The Balance, I was quick to snap it up. And, I’m very glad I did! Not only does the story reimagine the Baba Yaga legend, but Harrison insightfully weaves in elements of eco-horror as well.
The novella begins in Cold War era Poland, with Natalia rushing home after her brother, Kuba, fell while climbing a tree. With the bone protruding from Kuba’s leg, it’s clearly been broken, and the village doctor sets the limb as best he can with his limited medical supplies. Natalia and her mother pray for Kuba to recover without infection, but as the wound becomes gangrenous, Natalia turns to the old witch in the woods for help.
All the villagers, including Natalia’s mother, fear the Baba Yaga, claiming her powers come from a pact with the Devil. But Natalia isn’t convinced. She’d seen the old woman years before when her grandmother had gone to the Baba Yaga for medicines and teas. Besides, even if the woman is a witch, Kuba will surely die without help, so Natalia makes her way through the woods to the stone cottage covered in moss. Her decision sets off a series of events which upsets a long-held balance between mankind and nature, putting the entire village in grave danger.
To say more about the plot would be a grievous spoiler, but I’ll just say you’d better buckle up! Once you hit chapter six (about forty percent through the novella), the story dives into intense battles, including angry villagers with pitchforks, a swarm of insects and rodents taking over a church, possessions, and a climactic clash between humanity and elements of nature. Themes of man versus nature, ancient beliefs conflicting with modern faith, and even pressures of self-sacrifice round out the plot, providing deeper layers to the story. And the conclusion caught me completely off guard with a surprising and well-done twist.
While there was a lot I liked about The Balance, I never felt a real connection with the main character, Natalia. The entire story is from her point of view, but little is revealed about who she is as a person or what her hopes and dreams may be. I’m not even entirely sure how old she is, and never got a sense of what her life looked like prior to Kuba’s injury. Don’t get me wrong, she is a likeable character who had me rooting for her every step of the way, I just wanted a deeper connection.
Similarly, setting details were also a bit lacking. Based on the Goodreads synopsis, I gathered the story was set during the Cold War era but without the synopsis I’m not sure I could place when the tale was taking place. Once all hell breaks loose, the descriptions of settings painted detailed, grotesque images, which were fantastic, and I only wish I had been able to picture the village as clearly earlier in the story.
Neither the character work nor the setting details were huge disappointments, and in most other books I’m not sure I would have noticed the lack of development, however Harrison does so well with the rest of the story that these elements stuck out slightly.
Overall, I really enjoyed this debut novella from Kev Harrison, and am looking forward to reading more of his works in the future. If you love tales of witches and mankind at the mercy of the natural world, you are in for a real treat with The Balance.
Natalia’s in trouble. She only looked away for a second, and now her brother’s hurt. Her relationship with her mother is fractured, her brother’s condition is deteriorating, and her only hope lays deep in the unforgiving forest. A secret spoken only in whispers offers a way out. But when help comes in occult forms a sacrifice may be the only way to restore the balance.
Humanity and nature collide in The Balance by Kev Harrison, a modern reimagining of the Slavic folk tale of Baba Yaga, set in Cold War Poland.
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J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan
Just downloaded this to read thanks