The Balance by Kev Harrison
Publisher: LVP Publications, p/b, £3.23
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
The premise to Harrison’s THE BALANCE is simple enough, Natalia – our teen protagonist -is made to feel guilty by her mother for an accident where Kuba, her younger brother, breaks his leg when she is looking after him. As Kuba’s injury worsens, Natalia resorts to consulting, Baba Yaga, a local hermit in the nearby woods, to find a cure, and thus quell her mother’s wrath. Using an ointment prepared by Baba Yaga, Kuba’s injury heals. But when Natalia’s mother finds out, she reports Baba Yaga and her errant daughter to the theological authorities who sentence the old woman to death for witchcraft.
But unknown to those carrying out the execution, there must be ubiquitous order in the universe – The Balance. Once Baba Yaga is executed, nature runs rampant and, unless Natalia steps up to take her place, restoring balance and sacrificing her mother as part of the process, then the whole town is threatened to become a casualty as nature takes its revenge.
The key to THE BALANCE being so captivating is the way Harrison sets the concept. The story takes place in Poland at an unspecified time, leading the reader through a bleached world that feels like a fairy tale. In this, the story itself takes on the character of a folk tale, as though it, too, has been passed down through generations of telling and retelling.
In doing this, Harrison has created a world that is both enchanting and cautionary, but despite the whimsy, the characters have very real dilemmas to face. It is a book designed to scare and unsettle, and it does this in troves, but it is also about love, loyalty and promises made or broken. This is a rare thing in such a short piece of work and Harrison pulls it off in style.
Overall, THE BALANCE is a unique, brooding story mixing folk and eco-horror. This is a book written for adults, but its themes, delivery and ultimate message make it equally appropriate for young adult readers.