City of Roses

City of Roses

This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for City of Roses, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours.

City of Roses was written by Donovan Pruitt and first published in 2015. The novella is a fantasy/horror story which draws its inspiration from both the Chernobyl disaster and Ukrainian mythology. The story stands alone and so you do not have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Following the death of his girlfriend Katya, Alex fulfills her dying wish of visiting her hometown of Pripyat – a city which had to be utterly abandoned when the Chernobyl reactor went into meltdown. On the way there, he suffers a terrible motorbike accident when he swerves to avoid a young woman in the road.

Alex wakes up in a woodland village and is surprised to find himself uninjured. He has been nursed back to health by Elena, a woman who seems oddly familiar to him, who claims that he has always lived in the village. With his memories scrambled by the accident, Alex has no choice but to believe her and gradually settles into village life and his job as a fireman.

However on the eve of the Festival of Light, disaster strikes. The peaceful villagers are savagely attacked by demonic shadow dogs that emerge from the ruined reactor. The Priest blames Alex for the deaths, claiming that his appearance brought the monsters to their doorsteps. Unable to know for sure, Alex has no choice but to reclaim his memories and learn how to banish the evil from the forest forever.

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Before I begin this review, I think I should probably say that this is another example of a book that isn’t strictly a young adult novel. While there is nothing in this story that is really unsuitable for older teens, it’s clearly not especially aimed at them either. The protagonist reads as though he’s in his late twenties to early thirties (though, come to think of it, I don’t think the story ever really puts an age on him) and it does not really focus on any of the usual themes that you would associate with teen fiction. I’m not saying that a teenager wouldn’t get enjoyment out of this story but this is possibly something to bear in mind before you pick it up.

City of Roses is certainly a very unique novella and does a really good job of blending Ukrainian folklore with the grim reality of Chernobyl. The scenes set in the village are vibrant and whimsical. This is a world where mankind lives alongside the supernatural, fully accepting in its existence. Tiny berehynis (faeries) flutter around like fireflies, loyal domovye (spirits) help with household chores and the forest is protected by its guardian spirit, the lisovyk. I really love the way that the supernatural elements are just accepted so fully, even by Alex, as it just adds a dreamlike quality to the tale.

This contrasts sharply with the scenes at Pripyat. Beneath the crumbling exterior, it’s clear that Pripyat was once beautiful. However, the meltdown has left it as a land of the dead. It is dull and desolate, filled with empty homes and rusted metal. Chernobyl has transformed the surrounding area into a land of the dead. Instead of faeries, it is home to nightmarish creatures like demonic dogs made entirely out of rotting flesh. These aberrations subtly show the way that the meltdown has caused lasting damage to the balance of nature.

The plot of the novella is somewhat hard to follow and it took me a little while to get into it. Many of the book’s secrets are not revealed until its climax and so at first I was mistaken into thinking that the story was rather weak. We know that Alex does not belong in the village right from the first chapter and so it seemed confusing for characters to then immediately start asserting that he was someone else. Of course, it turned out that this was entirely the point and so I would advise that readers not allow themselves to be put off by the first few chapters. It’s only a short book and things start to come together once you get past the halfway point.

The twist of the story was very well done. It reminded me of the likes of the Silent Hill video games, in that everything that happens over the course of the story takes on deeper symbolic meaning. The final couple of chapters in particular were very beautiful and I found them to be a very satisfying conclusion to the story. However, as much as I did enjoy the ending, I felt that it would have had far deeper meaning if I felt more for the relationship between Alex and Elena.

This novella’s largest flaw was its length. There was more than enough material here to double the length of the story, leaving it feeling as though it was a much large book that had been compacted into novella form. Some books do benefit from being short (I have reviewed many that rambled on and on, leaving you wondering why half of the length had not been edited out) but unfortunately I did not feel that this was one of them.

Alex and Elena were both really likable people but they were not really given a chance to get to know each other. I’m not sure how much time passed over the course of this novella but it only felt as though it was a few days. This really didn’t feel like enough time for the two of them to build such an unbreakable bond. It was a bit like insta-love. Everything had just been condensed so far that Alex went from being mistrustful of Elena to making love to her over the course of a few short chapters.

I really don’t have a lot more to say about this novella as it’s so short. City of Roses was a very memorable story. It’s beautifully written, rich in symbolism and treats its subject matter very sensitively. However, it was unfortunately far too short and its character development did suffer because of this. The eBook is only very cheap on Amazon at the moment and based on this I would strongly advise that you take a look at it. It’s certainly an interesting curio and leaves a lasting impression.

City of Roses can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Giselle
    Sep 29, 2015 @ 11:54:09

    Wonderful review, Kim! This sounds like a fun novella and unique, too! Glad you liked it! 🙂


  2. hermionefowl
    Sep 30, 2015 @ 03:36:58

    I know absolutely nothing about Ukranian folk lore, so that alone had me intrigued. I’m very tempted to go and buy this, it sounds so good 🙂


    • Kim
      Sep 30, 2015 @ 06:38:28

      The use of the folklore was one of my favourite things about the book. It really made me want to learn more about it. Let me know what you think if you do read it 🙂


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