Monday, February 5, 2018

Book Review: 'Absolute Sunset' by Kata Mlek

Polish author Kata Mlek is an award-winning, genre-crossing author publishing in English and Polish. In Polish, she has published three novels and a book of short stories. ABSOLUTE SUNSET IS first book to be published in English. More most assuredly will follow. Much of the reason for the duplicated publishing Kata explains: ‘I was born and raised in the south of Poland, but a big part of my family lives in the US and Canada. As a child, I always assumed that my English-speaking uncles and aunts must feel terribly lost in Poland, since speaking Polish is something of a superpower. So, I resolved early on to master English— the first word I learned was “teddy bear”. I began my writing career in 2012, after leaving the IT industry. Several of my books were published in Polish, and were all successful and well received. In 2015, I made the decision to switch to self-publishing and start my international career. This was a tough decision, but I assumed that since I can say much more now in English than just “teddy bear”, I might succeed.’

Kata's mixture of fantasy and mystery and reality is keen: she makes speaking to a raven seem quite natural. ‘“Good evening.” The raven bowed politely. His black eye glittered like a lump of coal, as sorrowful and barren as the slagheap outside a mine. “Good evening!” Hanka answered, equally politely. She sat down and smoothed the collar of her pajamas— pink, with broderie anglaise. The holes, hemmed with thick thread, formed a nice, flowery pattern. It was unusual and much too elegant for pajamas. “How’re things going?” the bird asked chattily, taking a few steps along the bed frame. He held it tightly to keep from falling, scratching the pinewood a bit with his claws. “Okay, nothing special,” Hanka sniffed, putting a small pillow on her head. Perched there, it resembled the pointed hat of a clown puppet. “Oh well, life, the usual,” the raven said, making meaningless small talk for no reason that Hanka could see.’ And so we are introduced quite innocently to a story that is guaranteed to require lights on at night!
Kata’s preview offers the essence of the story: ‘Hanka is visited in her nightmares by a raven who speaks in riddles, which, in hindsight, appear to predict real-life accidents and disasters. She decides to solve the raven's clues and warn future victims, but this proves more difficult than she expects, and she is soon pulled into a much more dangerous game. As she becomes more and more immersed in her nightmares, she begins to question the raven's true intentions: Hanka can either play the raven’s game, or watch her family die. She realizes she must answer the hardest question of all if she hopes to survive.’

Fine writing, terrific concept for a story, and a riveting read. Excellent first novel, this. Grady Harp, July 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.