Title: Verena’s Whistle (Varangian Descendents #1)
Author: K. Panikian
Publication date: March 7, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: Verena and her family possess unique magic, which she and her cousins will need when a meteor falls in the Ural Mountains and brings dangerous creatures from another world.
Verena’s Whistle is a monster hunt across the snowy Ural Mountains that leans heavily on Russian and Slavic mythology. It’s fast-paced with a strong female lead, one who leads her male cousins into battle. The magic was the most fascinating part of this book to me, and I really enjoyed the world building. While I felt it relied on magic a little too much and made Verena out to be the only one with any good ideas, it was a quick and easy read with a story that flowed really well.
It’s a normal day for Alaskan graduate student Verena. Until she gets a call telling her to come home. With her whole family gathered, the patriarch, Alex, tells them their family’s full history, and that beings from the world he and his late team members originally came from generations ago might have come through a portal much like they had.
Verena and her blood family members all carry a unique magic, though Verena is still trying to figure out her own, which might have something to do with her unique whistle. But her magic and that of her cousins Theo and Julian means they are being sent to the Ural Mountains, where a meteor has crashed, potentially opening a portal between the two worlds. As the other world is populated with dangerous creatures, it’s of utmost importance that they track and destroy them.
Once in the snowy mountains, though, it appears there might be a more sinister force, and a beguiling young man claiming to be a cousin by adoption is eager to join them.
I was quite pleasantly surprised by Verena’s Whistle! From the description, I thought it was going to be a monster hunt across the world with a mysterious man named Owen. While it is a monster hunt, it wasn’t quite the race across the world I thought it would be. Neither was Owen exactly what I thought he’d be, so, in some ways, I think I conjured more tension and mystery than there really was. Still, Verena’s Whistle is very well-written and has an incredible magic system and world backing it.
Verena’s Whistle is set in Alaska and the Ural Mountains, and a bit in a couple of other places, but it’s mostly in the cold, snowy mountains. I really loved how the cold came alive in my mind, and I even felt a bit chilly from reading how cold the characters got. It was a ton of fun to travel around in the snow with them, though I have to wonder how the family makes it’s money because that kind of trip and that kind of stay in a big chalet sounded pricey! But I adored how the snow was utilized throughout the story. The attention to it was incredible.
Similarly, I loved the history provided about Verena’s family and the other world. Even though the reader only gets brief glimpses of it, it felt rich and real. It was very well conceptualized and nicely woven in. The magic was also incredible. There are different types and each person from the other world has some kind, including the descendants of the group that became stranded on Earth years before. It was both similar and different to other magic systems, but I most enjoyed Verena’s. While I couldn’t fully understand how it actually worked, it sounded really fascinating and, since most of the story is told from Verena’s perspective, the reader gets a a great view into how she uses it. The one thing I wasn’t a big fan of was how much magic they used and how gods tended to pop in and out. It made it feel like the story was relying on magic to get the characters out of trouble and to make things easier for them. I was also a little puzzled by how open-minded so many of the people Verena and her cousins met were about the dangerous creatures. The story borrows from Russian and Slavic mythology, so it seems plausible inhabitants might recognize a mythological creature in their midst, but I really didn’t understand why they didn’t freak out more.
As the main narrator, I really liked Verena. She’s strong, brave, and well-organized. She has such a good head on her shoulders and tries hard to not be sidetracked by romance. But she also came off as the only one who had any clue of what to do. She was the one taking charge, which was really nice, but then her male cousins never really had any input. It felt like Verena had all the ideas and everyone else was more than willing to just go along with her plans.
Verena’s Whistle is a fast-paced urban fantasy full of monsters, mythology, and magic. There was a bit more fighting than I expected, but I really liked how Verena and her cousins worked well together. While the description led me to believe Owen, the cousin by adoption, had something hidden up his sleeve, I quite thought he was a very eager, fun character. This novel, overall, was a delightful read with interesting magic and a fun setting.
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Thank you to K. Panikian for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.