Cherryh is one of my favorite authors, but this book disappointed me. As a folk tale, or combination of many folk tales, it was interesting, and the exotic, tsarist Russian location was very appealing. I liked the way the author brought together many magical beasts and beings, most of which would be unknown to a Western reader. However, the characters spend too much time arguing, worrying, and talking at each other about their anxieties, and they never really get around to interacting. The theme seemed to be something to do with "be careful what you wish for" but the lesson was lost in the confusion. The bad guys weren't so much evil as conflicted characters, and even they spent a lot of time justifying their actions and feelings to the others. In short, there was just too much talk! Most folk tales have good and evil and the line between them is broad and obvious; but in this book, everyone seemed to be on the same side. It made the story plodding and not much fun to read. I'm not sure whether Cherryh was trying to write a different kind of fairy tale, or had some other target in mind, but she didn't make it work.