Donna Russo Morin
(Once, Upon a New Time, #1)
Publication date: February 15th 2019
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
New worlds don’t appear. They are born from the labor of those who envision them.
Count Witon has grown weary of the constant war between the races. Together with his wife Belamay, and Persky – first of a rare Human / Elf breed – Witon plans to create a new society: a utopia for anyone who longs for peaceful coexistence.
They recruit pilgrims from every city and species; most to success, some to failure. Together, they set off to a small, yet promising island, found by chance in the middle of the churning ocean.
But the journey there is fraught with challenges, and none of them is as dire as the one they face once they reach their destination. Will they have the strength and determination to give Birth to this New Time?
Once, Upon A New Time is a medieval fantasy with a double-edged sword: one of blood, the other of lust.
Birth: Once, Upon a New Time by Donna Russo Morin is one of the easier to read high fantasy novels I’ve ever encountered. She avoids the pitfalls of info-dumps while using the emotions of the scene and the characters to convey tons of backstory and history. It probably should have a sexual assault trigger, as there’s a pretty desperate scene toward the middle of the story. Otherwise, one of the things that really stood out to me in this is the effervescent optimism that pervades everything. Even when Belamay is captured and tortured, they go around saying things like, “There is always something one can do, always.” I seriously have no idea where a bunch of beings from a war-torn world find such optimism, but I’d really like their secret.
The mix of creatures is a little strange. Centaurs, Dwarves, Fairies, Elves…most of the descriptions of the races are very nearly caricatures. After reading so much urban fantasy where these beings are generally more man-like than creature-like, Russo Morin’s return to fairy-tale descriptions is a little jarring. Green elves with pointy features, fairies that are small, dainty, beautiful, and fly, trolls that are large black-skinned with coarse hair, etc. However…one description did make me laugh. The brownies. Usually, brownies are described as roundish, plain, kind of brown. The Brownies in Birth gave me flashbacks to Willow. Their description in the book immediately brought to mind the Brownies from the movie. And after that all I could ever see were these two little guys brandishing toothpicks and shouting insults to everybody.
The whole of the attitudes of the characters, though, is very child-like. I can’t decide if this is intentional or if the innocence of the never-ending optimism has infected the rest of the characters’ interactions. Even when they’re despairing of something, there’s more of a teenage angst feel than an adult worry. It’s hard to describe, but I guess you could say that there’s quite a bit of emotional immaturity. This is kind of off-putting because these are people who have lived and breathed war their entire lives…yet they act like they’ve been sheltered and lived in a utopia where nothing ever goes wrong. It makes it hard to connect to them.
There’s a lot of kind of boring, very literal, world-building in between bouts of angst and flashes of torture. Overall, the story was pretty good, but there are a few things that would have engaged me a little more. I would like to see the adults act like…well…adults. I’d love to see a little more fall-out from the emotional trauma the MCs suffer. I’d love to see a little more…questing? It’s like all the action bits are skipped and we are just left with the retelling. But it’s generally a solid story that is worth a look.
Donna Russo Morin is an award-winning historical fiction author. Donna has dabbled as a model and actor, working on Showtime’s Brotherhood and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Branching out with her storytelling skills, Donna is now a screenwriter. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Donna lives on the south shore of Rhode Island close to the ocean she loves so very much. She is the proud mother of two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.