Bulgarian author Krassi Zourkova studied art history and wrote poetry at Princeton, the setting for her debut novel, Wildalone. After graduation from Harvard’s Law School, she’s practiced finance law, but her experiences at Princeton provide the descriptive and realistic setting for this wildly imaginative novel.
Thea Slavin is the protagonist whose journey we follow, a talented pianist in America at the tony institution, away for the first time from the protective cocoon of her Bulgarian family. With a host of universities to choose from, she’d been leaning toward attending Harvard until a relative reveals a long-held family secret: Thea had an older sister, also a talented pianist, whose Princeton experience ended in her early death. The manner of that death contains its own secret, ones Thea vows to unravel.
Within the circle of students at Princeton, she is intrigued by an elusive young man, Rhys, and his brother, Jake. Knowing them will catapult Thea into unseen layers of a sensual mythic underworld that becomes as irresistible to Thea as it is dangerous. There will be forest witches, mythic revelations, and the ultimate entrapment of men.
This is a mystery as Thea becomes more and more determined to find out the truth of what happened to her sister. But it’s also an exploration of a world that shadows aspects of Greek mythology. It is to Zourkova’s credit that she brings the reader along on Thea’s journey in a manner that allows readers to play the ultimate “What if?” game: What if dead doesn’t always mean gone forever, and people can be strung together by love and devotion in unlikely ways?
The background and history of the music Thea plays is an added bonus, evoking the emotions that she exhibits and connecting the bits of her story to the other main characters. The elements of magical realism are slowly introduced in such a way that just as Thea must come to accept that there are things beyond her ken, so does the reader. Very original and told in a deft manner.