Books Rebound’s Review of Assassin of Reality by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
In 2019 the newly translated Vita Nostra came out of nowhere and secured its place as my new favorite book. It’s a wild and horrifying ride. The book is what I describe as a dark academia, post-soviet, anti-Harry Potter with extremely ominous Lovecraftian vibes. The story follows Sasha, a student on vacation in a small seaside town with her mother. There she notices a strange man following and watching her. Eventually, they speak and he coerces her into performing a strange but harmless task. Sasha is to wake up every morning at 4 am, go down to the beach, strip naked, and swim out to touch a buoy before returning. Having witnessed this strange man’s power, she reluctantly agrees to do this, and once she’s back on land she vomits up golden coins. This man, Farit, tells Sasha to keep performing these strange tasks and collect the gold coins to use as admission to a place called the Institute of Special Technologies. There Sasha goes through a terrifying but exhilarating transformation as she learns about the true nature of reality.
The novel is quite the experience. During her studies, Sasha is in the dark just as much as the audience is. The school doesn’t tell the students why they’re doing this, they simply give these mind-bending, impossible-seeming assignments and expect the students to complete them. But slowly, the students begin to unshackle their minds from their incorrect assumptions about reality, and they begin to go through a strange metamorphosis.
The book is incredibly ominous and quite philosophical. You can feel that permeating every page of this incredible tale. Given the ending of Vita Nostra, it’s no wonder people demanded a sequel to what was supposed to be a standalone book. On March 13th, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko released the long-awaited (especially if you’re Russian) sequel to their original 2007 book. Assassin of Reality picks up where Vita Nostra left off, and we get to witness the immediate fallout of Sasha’s final test. Farit, Sasha’s student advisor/(tor)mentor, drags Sasha back out of obliteration and unreality, into the recently terminated life of Alexandra, a version of Sasha’s alternate self. She finds it’s no longer 2007, fifteen years have passed, yet when she arrives back at school, Sasha and her surviving classmates begin their fourth year together.
While her classmates had found their places as verbs and nouns of The Great Speech, Sasha is left unmoored with the realization that she is Password, an entity capable of reverberating to create a whole new informational structure. However as Password, Sasha is extremely dangerous, deemed an “assassin of reality” and set up by her teachers to fail at every opportunity. Only Farit wants Sasha to succeed, but that might be for his own nefarious reasons.
Throughout this book we get to see Sasha come to terms with this new reality she’s found herself in, her place in it, and the growing powers she must figure out how to use.