For some reason, my affection for anything Russian always involves espionage. It must be due to James Bond and all these Cold War movies. I have this mythical fascination that nothing good ever happens to Russia and that everyone’s always being watched. So when I heard that one of my favourite artists, Onorobo, was illustrating for a story in Sparkler Monthly that fills this myth, I can’t help but rush towards the site. Dusk in Kalevia turns out to be as mythical as I have imagined, if not more. The story of two ‘men’ caught at odds in a brewing revolution remains romantic. More so when you read them move in such a beautiful city as Kalevia.
Dusk in Kalevia circles around Toivo Valonen, an undercover agent sent to Kalevia to aid the resistance against the Communist regime, and Demyan Chernyshev, a KGB liaison officer. These two men have a long history that spans for centuries as it turns out that they are Angels who have been shaping the world’s history. This time, they’re shaping the history of Kalevia. Kalevia in itself is quite interesting. After having read the first few chapters of the story, Emily Compton’s descriptions of the city were rich and felt concrete, as if you can imagine the city in a postcard or in special in Parts Unknown. You get a sense of the town and how parts of it are majestic but at the same time crumbling. At first, I just allowed Compton to take me through the city and show me its vibrant tapestry. At one point, I was so drawn by the city that I googled it just in case I do make a trip to Russia. Sadly, Kalevia’s fictional. Fortunately, it felt real to me. And that’s good. I tend to shy from fantasy novels because my imagination is shot when I can’t see pictures or if the places have not been thoroughly described by the writer. Not that I expected this story to have a Tolkien-esque description of Kalevia. That’s not the case at all. As I said, Compton takes you through the city as it unfolds. She shows you the rubble in the street as Toivo escapes as if you can hear his heavy feet fall on the concrete. While I initially read this to see Onorobo’s illustrations, it was Compton’s narrative that really kept me going. Whenever Onorobo’s illustration pops out in a chapter, I feel my imagination stirred seeing what Compton described come into fruition. Together, they’ve made Kalevia alive, especially its characters, more so Toivo and Demyan.
Toivo and Demyan are just adorable. I might be wrong in using such a word to describe them. Let alone use this image to show these dynamics. In fact, I can see Demyan raising an eyebrow and getting one of his birds to stab me in the eye but I have fallen in love with them hence, they’ve become adorable to me. I have loved them enough to finally manage to say their names without thinking ‘that KGB dude and that journalist’. It took a while, I must confess. Eastern Europe has been outside of my fantasy that apart from Anastasia, Russian Czars, and a handful of politicians in history, specific Eastern European names are outside my fantasy. But as I said earlier, Compton and Onorobo were amazing in making these men alive, as if it was perfectly natural to hear them talking to their birds or brushing their shoulders. Without revealing much and letting your fujoshi senses put two and two together, Toivo and Demyan’s otherworldly rivalry raises the tension between their relationship which makes me scream like the crazy fujoshi that I am. Demyan’s harsh and cool demeanour against Toivo’s kindness and warmth draws such a beautiful contrast that their dynamics is such a delight to read. The two men are truly Darkness and Light. At the same time, knowing where these two Angels stood, I know that I can only treasure their tender moments so much. I feel the same for Kai and Vesa who fall within the typical category of lovers at odds in a revolution. Different from Toivo and Demyan, Kai and Vesa are mortals and they stood on opposing sides of the privileged and the underprivileged. These two provide the lens for the country, showing the reader the differences in their lives and why it was necessary for Kalevia to change and why Toivo and Demyan’s involvement in this revolution mattered. Again, kudos to Compton and Onorobo for making me care about this revolution. Most of the time we’re drawn to the characters and not the cause but this work makes me think otherwise. For a country as beautiful as Kalevia, I can’t help but wish the best.
I started reading this in the Sparkler website. I’m not fond of reading online but I ended up using Evernote to make my reading experience easier. I used to be able to follow the first five chapters every month or so until the thesis ate me. And I feel bad in doing so because my only issue with this piece was it was serialised. Getting a chapter every month or so not only left me screaming for more but also involved a matter of going back to previous chapters and remind myself where I left off. To a degree, I stopped following, anticipating instead the volume that might be published in the end. And thankfully, Sparkler tapped me to tell me that they’ve got a volume for me to read now. While it may appear that Sparkler had their ways with getting me to do this review, to get me to spazz about this title while I’m in the middle of my thesis writing is telling how much I’ve loved this work.
Dusk in Kalevia is beautiful read. I don’t know whether if I should really call it a light novel because it is definitely better than most of them. It is definitely similar to the better-written BL novels in Japan and competes well with the genre. I honestly appreciate this effort, a good offering to readers who are thirsty for a revolution.
Disclaimer: Sparkler Monthly provided a review copy of the book to the author but this gesture does not colour the author’s review.