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Realm Explorers Part CXXXI: Visit Ruska with M. L. Farb
Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don't forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book. 

Author’s name:

M. L. Farb

Title of book and/or series:

Vasilisa, The Hearth and Bard Tales book 1

Brief summary of the story:

Vasilisa has always been strong. She’s strong enough to break the arm of the bully that daily taunts her. She won’t because she and her mother are servants at the Orlov manor, and her mother would be punished for her retaliation. Instead Vasilisa bides her time until she is sixteen and can return to the forest.

Only Staver, the master’s son, shows her kindness. His friendship pulls as strong as the forest, but their classes are divided forever by law. She is a forest born, fatherless servant and her future at the manor holds mockery filled drudgery.

War threatens. The forest calls. Will she stay to protect the one who can never be more than a friend, or flee to the peace that the forest offers?

Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:

Snowy day on a bridge in St. Petersburg

Ruska is a cold land. The people are strong, for they yearly fight winter. Those who win live to see another summer. Those who do not, find a home in earth that is frozen half the year. Come and enter a land of wolves and ogres, tsars and wars, and forests vast enough to hold whole nations. A land where the servant will always be the servant—unless. Come see.

If we were to visit Ruska as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?

If you know some of the nobility, you will want to visit a manor house or even a palace. Their distinctive onion-shaped domes show from miles away, but it is the inside that is truly a marvel. Many Ruskan pass the long winter by creating beautiful carvings and paintings. Geometric paintings cover doorways and ceilings, intricate rugs and tapestries hang on the walls to help keep the cold away, and inlaid furniture grace the rooms. Watch for intricate clocks, like the one with a peacock that spreads its tail feathers.

If you are like me, the forest will draw you more than the palaces. Ancient forests spread across lands that could swallow whole nations. Birch and pine stretch above trillium. Peat bogs and meadows open to the sun. Otters play in streams, goshawks hunt, and shrikes sing their fierce evening song. These are not places to travel carelessly. Wolves, bears, and ogres roam the depths. Your visit may turn into a permanent stay.

What dangers should we avoid in Ruska?

The Scythians dwelling to the south live a nomadic life on windswept steppes. They are as fierce and unyielding as their land. If they decide to attack while you are visiting, flee. They sweep through, killing indiscriminately. A child is no safer from their sabers than a soldier.

Also avoid upsetting the nobility. They can be even more vicious and unforgiving than the Scythians.

Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Ruska?

Door in St. Basil's Cathedral

Ruskans usually start the day with a slice of almost black rye bread slathered in butter topped by an equally thick slice of cheese or meat. On special occasions they take buckwheat (which isn’t a grain but rather the cousin of rhubarb), soak the seeds overnight, and the following morning cook it up in milk. It is rich, nutty, and has a chewy/creamy texture. You’ll never find anything else like it.

Other favorites: Borscht—a beet soup, Pelmeni—a dumpling stuffed with meat and onions, and Blini—a thin pancake eaten with jam and sour cream.

What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Ruska?

The longbow is preferred for both hunting and fighting. But it takes great strength to draw it. Some bows have 200-lbs draw weight. Imagine lifting a 200-lb weight with your arm, shoulder, and back, then holding it steady so the shot goes where you want it.

The Ruskan also use the Shasqua, a slightly curved sabre with a single edge. It is effective for both cutting and thrusting.

What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Ruska? If there is magic, please give some examples of what it involves or how it’s used.

Some people are able to shape-shift. However if they shift their shape, they also shift to animal senses, though they retain their human thought. Depending on the animal shifted to the world changes color, the faintest liquid trail becomes visible in the ultraviolet range, scents overpower, and sound takes on new dimensions. It is overwhelming for the first time user of this magic.

Tell us about any sports, games, or activities that are available for entertainment in Ruska.

The Hopak is an acrobatic dance, usually danced by men. It requires immense athletic strength, agility, and balance. It is often performed in celebration by soldiers, and has no set steps, rather the dancers compete against each other to see who can outperform the other. Some of the steps are squat and kick out legs, crouch with legs crossed and alternately touch knees to the ground, cartwheel, flips, and leaps.

What is the political or government structure in Ruska? Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?

The tsar's word is law. Each child from their first year of speech swears an oath to love, honor, and protect the tsar—not once but on each name day.

Within the manor the lord and lady have absolute control over their servants and slaves. There is no court that a servant can plead for justice against an unjust master. Marriage between social-classes is not only frowned upon, but illegal.

Are there any other unique cultural practices that we should be aware of if we visit Ruska?

Many Ruskans love music, especially the balalaika, a triangular stringed instrument. It can be played like the guitar or the larger stringed instruments, like the bass.

Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?

I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia for 6 months. I'll never forget entering adulthood surrounded by a city and culture older than my home nation. And I'll always remember the kindness and goodness of the people.

The idea for Vasilisa came from a children’s picture book Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana. To save the man she loved, a woman disguised herself as a man and had to pass three tests of strength, skill, and strategy. The picture book took on tall-tale quality as the woman injured her opponents in wrestling and shattered a tree by shooting it with an arrow. How did she become so strong? I wrote Vasilisa to answer that question.

What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?

This is what some of my readers are saying about Vasilisa:

“Public unrest, self-discovery, … and the choice to be good or evil.”

“Vasilisa must find the courage to face her deepest fears and challenge her deepest held beliefs about her past.”

Author Autobiography:

Ever since I climbed up to the rafters of our barn at age four, I’ve lived high adventure: scuba diving, hiking, climbing, and even riding a retired racehorse at full gallop—bareback. I love the thrill and joy.

Stories give me a similar thrill and joy. I love living through the eyes and heart of a hero who faces his internal demons and the heroine who fights her way free instead of waiting to be saved.

I create adventures, fantasy, fairy tale retellings, and poetry. I live a joyful adventure with my husband and six children. I am a Christian and I love my Savior.

Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book(s)? Please include links.

My books are available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback formats, plus one audiobook.

The King Trials:

The King’s Trial — Whitney Awards Nominee 2019

The King’s Trial audiobook (just released)

The King’s Shadow


Hearth and Bard Tales:
Fourth Sister (coming later this year)


Where can readers connect with you online?

I hope you all enjoyed the trip to Ruska.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

Click here to read other posts in the Realm Explorers series.

Please join us again next Monday for a trip to another world in next week's edition of Realm Explorers!
Are you an author of a sci-fi or fantasy novel that takes place in another world? Click here to find out about having it featured on Realm Explorers!


2 Replies to “Realm Explorers Part CXXXI: Visit Ruska with M. L. Farb”

Great interview–and I love that cover!


Interesting interview and fascinating concept.


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