Recently I came across a very interesting Polish fantasy novel. (I decided to read a bit in Polish because I feel like my internal dictionary is getting smaller if I mostly interact with people in English… and it would be good to have at least one language learnt to an appropriate degree). It’s called ”Złodziej dusz” (eng. Thief of souls) and was written by Aneta Jadowska.
The description was promising: a part of a series, which means it was profitable enough to make for a few of them, but the series is short, not 30 books in there, which would mean a red flag for me for being a Harlequin-like; contains fantasy elements, but it’s set in modern Poland, so it has some normal-world-bindings, which means it’s from a modern age fantasy that likes to merge those worlds more than a classic magic & knight fantasy. Since it wasn’t extremely expensive and I was eager to explore new worlds and get some new perspective in life, I decided to buy it and I wasn’t disappointed.
The world shown in the novel is such a mess I probably won’t be able to explain fully here. Quite interesting one, though. The main setting is Toruń, real-world town in Poland (quite pretty, they have a museum of gingerbread). The main character is a woman called Dora Wilk, who works in the police in Toruń as an investigator. She has a second life though – she is a witch, not only a human but also a magical being, and there is a whole new world in another dimension (I guess?) or at least hidden from humans that is called Thorn where other beings like her lives. There are a few kinds of those supernatural beings: there are those that come from Christianity, which means angels and devils (God is real there, not sure what his role is though; he is mentioned once or twice, but doesn’t do anything; the Rafael, Gabriel and Michał archangels and the Lucifer are there though), there are vampires and werewolves, there are magical beings like witches, banshees (pl. szyszymora), shamans, I don’t think I remember more. They are divided into systems which I think means different kinds of magic/power. Angels and devils are together, witches are in a different one, vampires and werewolves in a different one(s) than listed above.
There is quite a lot of content about those different kinds of creatures, including how they do magic, how are their personality etc. Some you could guess – for example vampires being lawful evil, if I can say so, enjoying their life full of plotting, intriguing and generally doing politics. But there are also little facts like that the vampires and other magical beings grow in power over time, so the oldest are the most powerful, and some vampires have additional powers like dream-snatching. There are some interesting details for most of the species.
The plot is good as well. It has even quite a bit of a crime story, especially at the beginning when we can see Dora investigating a murder. I would really love to see Aneta Jadowska’s take on crime novel, I was even a bit disappointed when it steered away from the human-side crime and went into more supernatural parts of the story.
Another interesting part of this novel is the prevalence of sexual themes in the novel. I said the main character was a witch; in fact, she was somewhat a cross-breed, with genes of… well, not sure of what, but those genes, coming from her ancestors predisposed her to be a priestess of a goddess called Lady of the North and a priestess of a goddess of fertility. The first set of genes allowed her to take magical energy from sea and wind, and is generally linked to aggressiveness, power and dominance, while the second one, if she wished to finish the rituals (and she really, really didn’t wish), would make her into a succubus. But even without the rituals, the magic was there, inside her, still interacting with the world (people… humans and otherwise) around. I’m not sure which genes made her into a witch, but maybe it’s that priestesses mean witches and I didn’t get it while reading?I must say, the rules that magical world acts within are not exactly clear to me. In any case, she is a witch also because of those genes. You need to have those genes to be one.
So the first thing is the character and the whole backstory of her. For example, since she’s working in a human job and living among humans, she needs to keep herself on a low, but steady level of magical energy. Low, to be able to shield it out so humans don’t notice. I said already she could get the energy from sea and sea wind, but then she would get way too much. Hence she needs to live a bit further away from sea and, apparently, feed on… sex with humans. (Her genes of something something goddess of fertility apparently allowed that). Random strangers, more precisely, because even having sex with the same person a few times in a row could make them fall into the trap of affection greater than the need for sleep or food. They would behave like drugged with her being the drug they would desire. She could, in theory, have sex with other magical beings but I guess they were either afraid of falling as victims to her magic (falling in love forever from one kiss) or being drained of magic (since she would be at the same time feeding off of them).
Her… eating habits could not, of course, stay unnoticed for long, so she had a bit of trouble at work – there was both a gossip that she sleeps with everyone in the office and, at the end, a whole lot of slut-shaming. It was all because of one guy who spied on her, most of the coworkers were either neutral or even siding with her, but still, she was temporarily suspended for some other thing that was used as an excuse (coincidentally, also linked with sex – she hit the pedophile who wanted to hurt a child of her friend).
Furthermore throughout the whole novel we follow her relationship with a devil called Miron. They both very well want to have sex with each other, and always wanted – there was a time that they tried to hook up but instead of having sex, they decided to talk and become best friends, and apparently it excludes sex. It’s mostly Dora being opposed to ”ruining their friendship” since Miron doesn’t really think it would lead to anything bad, but he, except for a few jokes here and there, respects her opinion fully. He does point out that it might be a commitment issue as an underlying reason. There is a beautiful scene next to the sea – when Dora is feeding off of sea and wind and getting overwhelmed by the energy that is entering her body – that the chemistry between those two characters really shine. The scene is probably the closest that the novel got to actual sex, which never actually happens and it’s only talked about, and is, frankly, quite hot. Nothing really happens, but the tension is so thick you could cut the air with a knife. The wildness of the sea, the stormy wind, and two magical beings shining from aura. Beautiful.
Then there is a relationship with an angel, who is Miron’s dearest friend. at first he appears quite cold towards Dora; but later we learn, of course, that he is totally in love with her. He did try to hide it for several reasons, mostly because of her goddess of fertility genes and some politics (heavens in this book aren’t described too nicely…), but at the end of the book he becomes her guardian angel for the rest of her life, and the rules state that the angel cannot have sex with the person in their care. And then they all three start to live together, so Dora has another reason to not have sex with Miron which is to not hurt the angel’s feelings.
I must say, even if the novel is quite liberal with its attitude towards sex – the slut-shaming part were only done by antagonists etc. – I can still see some resembles of the Catholic culture that is dominant in Poland, which is the country both I and the author come from. For example the reason for Dora to not have sex with Miron – I must say first, any reason to not consent is valid, even bad reasons, but Dora’s reason can be seen as one of the bad ones. (More precisely, maybe: ultimately in case of consent, the reason doesn’t matter, what matters is if a valid consent was given; if someone was coerced, it doesn’t count as a valid consent either, btw.). Basically Dora is afraid that if they have sex, their relationship will suffer in some way. There is one of the lies engraved in the society here that sex is always a big deal and cannot ever be actually casual. Saving your virginity to marriage is using that argumentation – that it’s something that is so important, so binding to people that you should have this intimate moment only with your forever after partner. The truth is, just like most things in life, it all depends on the approach of people taking part in it. It can be the huge deal, but it can be casual, too. Some people might find one approach easier than the other, and even if I said ”that’s a bad reason”, one still needs to take into account that people like Dora, who was raised in Poland so I assume the same or similar culture, are definitely a thing here and need to be treated with the same respect as those who make more liberal choices. Note that she shook off the culture partially – since she was fine with sleeping with random strangers – but not the deeply engraved connotations the culture associate sex with.
Similar, but much more subtle vibes of Catholic point of view I can see in the seaside scene with Dora and the devil. It shows attraction as this powerful force that you need to strain all of your will force to oppose and not give in. Something else I noticed is the subtle intertwining of sex and power – which I think does come from patriarchy. It isn’t inherent to sexuality, but growing up in a culture like that might get you used to that point of view.
Maybe it’s not the best possible novel that could be written – the language is still kinda simple, while I love some more fun with it, and sometimes the action gets some primitive vibes, especially if there are werewolves around (they are basically described as human predators but worse), but still, the pacing is good, the writing is good, the plot is good, the world is fun to explore although it’s kinda a bit much to take in. I love the little details here and there; like how Gabriel archangel is a horrible grandfather, but Rafael is much worse, while Michał archangel is like ”whatever, take my sword”, or how angels are so fertile that one of the best strategy to make a young adult angel to start take responsibility and go into politics and responsible jobs like their ancestors is to put a smiling face in front of him, since having a child in that culture I guess requires them or convinces them to start being responsible. (That’s why the angel didn’t want to try to get close to Dora – an extremely fertile angel together with a semi-priestess of goddess of fertility? How could a baby not come from it?). So all in all, it’s interesting and funny novel to read in your free time to relax.