C. J. Cherryh
In the layout of the story this book is different than the Cherryh I'm familiar with. Not because it's fantasy primarily--the Gate of Morgaine books were as well stylistically, for all that they also tied into Alliance-Union. That series was recognizably a similar approach to her larger canon, the focus on politics and intrigue, the outsider as central figure. Here it's recognizably the same hand with characterization and prose, but the plot layout looks fairly conventional. It takes a pre-Christian Russian fairy tale, but at core it's a dramatization of a stock mythological concept with a focus on building of relationships rather than sustained reflection on the larger community. As a book it works pretty well, slow and a little disorienting to get into but after that point quite gripping, with some strong writing and good moments of horror and wonder. Also, after awhile of finding myself displeased by the characterization of Bren, here the layout of more flawed and believable people is good. They’re characters without a firm grasp on the answers for their universe, without a blueprint for their future. That works in many of the most intense scenes, where they have to grapple with their own ignorance and the strange metaphysics of a world that is actively coming around to kill them. The novel toys with a lot of the forms of magical horror, but ultimately turns from it because the victory lies in obtaining knowledge and clarifying ambiguity. Some initially menacing forces turn out to be co-opted into alliance, and there’s usually a lot more room to work with than killing or being killed.
I'd view this work as more minor than a lot of Cherryh's work, though, and the focus is in many ways narrower and less ambitious. At a certain level I think her approach to writing doesn't capture the fun potential of exploring stories and mythology in the way a Neil Gaiman can do.
Better than: The Shining by Stephen King
Worse than: King Rat by China Mieville
Roughly equivalent to: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan