Epeolatry Book Review: Little Sister by Elana Gomel


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Title: Little Sister – A Novella about Friendship and Monsters Set in Soviet Era Russia
Author: Elana Gomel
Genre: Dystopian Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 15th Oct, 2021

Synopsis: Svetlana never imagines that stepping between a soldier and a monster will change her life – or the course of history as she knows it.

Andrei, Svetlana learns, is a soldier fighting the battle of Kursk in 1943 Soviet Union. Strange names, people, and places rouse the young girl’s suspicions. She has only ever known the monsters threatening Motherland, and the Voice, whose army of light is the only weapon against them. Svetlana doesn’t know if she can trust the strange soldier, for he could easily be one of the turned former humans masquerading as a soldier. At the same time, she finds him eerily familiar, as if she’s known him her whole life.

When Svetlana loses her mother and father, Andrei agrees to help her find them, setting the two on a quest that reveals a new threat, and a secret with world-shattering consequences.

Little Sister is a gorgeous, subversive fantasy set in the Soviet era. Grounded in Russian history and literature, the novella unravels the underside of history, imagining how words and writing can be both an act of violence and one of hope that shape the historical narrative. The novella invites the reader into the events of an era from a perspective that isn’t often explored in fantasy literature. I not only found the characters and plot refreshing, but also wanted to learn more about the events and fiction that inspired the story, leading me to further reading and research.

The novella captures the grief and terror of the time in gruesome, heartbreaking detail—not just of monsters and gore, but of human suffering. At the same time, the story and its characters don’t let go of hope and love, and there are profound, moving scenes of this, too, especially as Svetlana and Andrei’s friendship grows. Though war and death rage around them, the two learn to find comfort and trust in each other, and this felt so real as it unfolded. Finally, the foundation of the novella is a quest that packs the story full of harrowing adventure and keeps the plot moving along at a heart-thumping pace.

While the complexity of Svetlana and Andrei’s relationship was, for me, the centerpiece of the story, the ending has stayed with me long after I finished reading. Within the novella’s resolution, Gomel masterfully embodies one of its central themes: the ambiguity and power of words. The ending delivers a twist that packs real weight and ties the mysteries surrounding Andrei and Svetlana’s experiences together in a meaningful, truly unexpected way that is at once grim and disheartening, and hopeful and uplifting. After reading, I saw how the novella subtly hinted at this finale. I did feel there could have been a bit more subtext leading to the final reveal, perhaps involving the Voice, for example, which is why I have given the novella 4.5 out of 5 ravens.

Ultimately, this is a story not to be missed. If you love rich dystopian fantasy with unique, terrifying monsters, complicated human relationships, and a final message that’s as dire as it is hopeful, then add Little Sister to your reading list.

out of 5 ravens.