Avilova's novel demonstrates an impressive grasp of Russian literature and history....Bert Renes, a Slavonic scholar, is doing research in Moscow in the early 1980s when he discovers that an intriguing 16th-century manuscript is missing from the state archive. The manuscript, Revelation of Fire, contains the teachings of Eularios, one of the Cenergites line of monks who for centuries remained untouched by antiheresy movements. As Bert and archivist Nadya Demyanova begin to uncover the secrets of Revelation, their fascination with the manuscript's past owners grows, and Avilova weaves in historical accounts of the manuscripts past owners, including the self-proclaimed "first female Cenergite" and a pair of orphan twins who mysteriously disappeared. The depictions of Cold War-era Moscow are convincingly dreary and wonderfully paranoia-inducing,....Brainy historical Russian mysticism deployed at a page-turning pace isn't for everyone, but a chunk of devotees will dig it.
Sharing the recent popularity of mysterious religious and political entities harboring fateful secrets, this novel is about a Dutch Slavonic scholar and a female archivist who discover that a two hundred year old manuscript is missing from Moscow s State Cultural and Historical Archive. As they begin to find out how it vanished they also begin to reconstruct its trail of ownership over the past two hundred years.
Remarkably detailed, the story includes Russian history, art, politics, religion, and good guys and bad guys, of course! The setting bounces back and forth from contemporary times to notable periods of Russian history: the 1870s when the first socialist groups appeared; the Civil War of 1919; perestroika (the economic reforms introduced in June 1987 by Mikhail Gorbachev); and, present-day Russia.
There are many characters in the book, so thankfully Avilova wrote a non-related family tree of the significant characters and places in the book.
Consuming Books One Page at a Time
This novel is part mystery suspense, part metaphysical treatise. It is in equal measure the story of individual journeys toward transcendence and a picture of one nation’s painful evolution away from the divine. Revelation of Fire is a massive undertaking in both historical and contextual scope, and certainly not a light read. If pages of academic dialogue detailing the history of real and fictional Orthodox Christian orders don’t excite you, then this is a novel to skip.
However, Avilova’s ability to pull the reader into her settings is masterful. Her descriptions are not snapshots allowing the reader to ”see" the character’s surroundings while still maintaining a comfortable distance. Rather, she somehow captures the essence of each locale, be it a Zakharine hermitage, a nineteenth century Russian fishing village or a 1980s Soviet apartment block, and forces the reader to enter each of these environments. This alone makes Avilova’s novel well worth reading.
Similarly, I found the mystery surrounding the fictional Revelation of Fire quite compelling and suspenseful. At times, Bert’s commentaries about his adventure have an almost noir-like tone, creating an intriguing contrast between his ”worldly" attitudes and the mystical nature of his quest.
Once revealed, the Monk’s mysteries could be considered somewhat anticlimactic. There is nothing particularly unique about the text’s mystical wisdom—it’s little more than a repackaging of ancient Eastern concepts like Kundalani, Rlung, or the enlightenment found in Shambhala. But Revelation of Fire is not a mystical handbook or metaphysical how-to-guide and, as such, it’s not the mysteries that matter. It is, instead, an exploration of how these revelations might affect the people who discover them. This Avilova does with absorbing skill.
Rebecca Gaffron, Internet Review of Books