You are here

Book Notes: Where the Dark Stands Still

The adult and young adult fantasy genre has seen so many iterations of fairytale retellings. And many of us are happy to discover our favorite fairytales in inventive new frameworks and settings again and again. I finally noticed the ones I always gravitate towards have a strong Beauty and the Beast theme. From Robin McKinley’s two Beauty and the Beast retellings (Beauty and Rose Daughter, both excellent) to Uprooted by Naomi Novik, to A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, there’s something about a girl and a sentient house and a curse just begging to be broken that I find immensely satisfying. 

Enter the newest addition to my list, A. B. Poranek’s debut YA Fantasy, Where the Dark Stands Still. When Liska enters the Driada, a forest rumored to be infested with demons, it’s in search of the fabled fern flower. For Liska, the wish the flower grants is her only hope to rid herself of the magic she’s had all her life, magic considered demonic by her pious village. If she wants any chance to live a normal life, the magic must go. So Liska braves the tricksy forest and its dangerous inhabitants. But in discovering the fern flower, she also encounters its forbidding guardian, the powerful Leszy. His bargain for the flower is one year of service to him in his House Under the Rowan Tree, shrouded in decades of neglect. Liska reasons she can endure a year of servitude to be free of her magic, and makes the bargain. Of course, there’s more to the house, the Leszy, and the forest than Liska can know. A year of forced proximity brings to light many secrets, not the least of which is the true origins of the Driada itself. 

As Where the Dark Stands Still draws significantly from Polish folklore, I found myself quickly out of my depth, both in pronunciation and in familiarity. I’d heard of rusalka and hearth spirits from other Slavic inspired fantasies, but the Leszy, the strzygon and many others were unknown to me. It was enjoyable to have a new-to-me framework paired with elements of Beauty and the Beast. And beyond that, Poranek’s writing was filled with delightful moments of wry humor and wisdom, not to mention a simmering romantic thread. It was a pleasure to watch Liska comes into deeper knowledge of herself and her inner strength. For those of you looking for a reading experience with no cliff hangers or loose ends, Where the Dark Stands Still is that rare thing in YA Fantasy these days: a standalone novel. It is the perfect read for fantasy lovers to curl up with during these rainy evenings!

— Lori