Wednesday 13 March 2019

Book review : Children of the Cave - Virve Sammalkorpi

Children of the Cave is the translation of a Finnish book, which won both the 2017 Savonia Literature Prize and the Kuvastaja Prize for the best Finnish Fantasy Novel. After reading the first few pages, I had to flick to the back and reread the blurb, to check that I wasn't actually reading a factual work presenting the findings of an olde-worlde research trip !

The book is set in 1819 and the writer of the research notes, Iax Agolasky, who is a young Russian assistant to a French scientific explorer, is employed to accompany a research trip to the isolated Russian wilderness. He is a young, educated man who finds it quite hard to fit in with and be respected by the rowdy, hard-drinking and frequently uncouth group of researchers.

When they stumble across a group of strange creatures living in a cave, they are unsure how to react. They resemble a strange cross-breed of children and animals, making it hard to know how to treat them. Is it OK to kill them and bottle up various specimens to experiment on or should they be respected and looked after? Tensions mount in the camp and Agolasky finds himself getting secretly closer to the children, in spite of the risks.

Despite the writing being recorded in a series of notes - frequently incomplete or weather-damaged, with pages missing, so you need to read between the lines and imagine what was going on and how things were developing in the camp - you get an intense and moving glimpse into the young man's thoughts and experiences. He is the only member of the team to respect the children and care about their safety, something which - in much vaster terms - makes you think about how we react when faced with our own "others", be that through different nationalities, religions or sexual orientations. With a very Neo-Victorian, Gothic feel, I was frequently reminded of the atmosphere of Frankenstein's Monster, with the ethics of science, faith and choosing where the limits of "right" and "wrong" are set constantly at the back of my mind.

It's a very interesting and thought-provoking read, with moments of real emotion. I could really feel for Agolasky, who seems to me to be the only morally-intact member of the research team, but maybe all the great scientific discoveries and cures for past illnesses would never have been found with such high moral standards. It would be a great title for a book club to discover, as there are so many different viewpoints that could be offered and argued over.

Children of the Cave sets the tone for the rest of the exciting 'There Be Monsters' series. If you need another reason to buy a copy, remember that 50p from each book sold goes to charity.

star rating : 4/5

Children of the Cave
172pp, paperback with flaps, £12
Published February 2019
ISBN 978-1-908670-50-2

for more information :

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


  1. this sounds like a really interesting read and something I would enjoy.

  2. This sounds like a good book, I might have to give it a go :)

  3. I loved your introductory paragraph to the post! Sounds like an unusual book. Thank you.

  4. does it translate ok? I have found in the past translations don't always work.

    1. Depends on the translator, I guess ! All of Pereine's books are translated from different international authors and I always find they read really well. The names of people and places are the only things that tend to give it away. :)

  5. This sounds like a really interesting read. You're right thatin days gone certain types of people were deemed fit to experiment on. There's the well-known US venereal disease research conducted on black men, as well as cases of experiments being conducted of convicted criminals. So not much of a stretch to think that potential non-humans would be subjected to experimentation.

    1. It's definitely a "could be real" kind of book :)


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