Intelligent, attractive Anna Reilly is a cognitive psychologist pursuing her PhD. While interning at New York City’s Bellevue hospital, she is assigned an unusual patient in the psych ward: a mysterious, handsome “John Doe” with no memory of who he is or how he got there. As Anna begins to uncover his mysterious, other-worldly origins, her sense of self begins to unravel, threatening her work, her relationship with her fiancée, and the stable future she’d always planned on.
Anna’s world is wholly believable, full of details that evoke both the intensity and drudgery of her hospital work, and the quirks of living in New York City in the 21st Century (in a “funky” neighborhood in a studio apartment “taller than it was wide”). Anna’s imposing, controlled exterior masks a deep vulnerability and loneliness, and her work with “John Doe” brings to the surface secrets repressed since she was a teenager, linked to the time (and the reason) she abruptly stopped being able to dream.
It’s to Svetova’s credit that in the world she’s expertly constructed, the fantasy elements feel of a piece with the story’s portrayed reality. Her writing is delightfully literary (at one point even namedropping the poetic bard Leonard Cohen), and evokes all of the senses, such as when Anna discovers that John has “a distinct freshness about him, like he had come from a glacier—a high, indefinable scent of snow.”
While successfully sidestepping the landmines of corniness and the bogs of exposition that so often plague the fantasy genre, Svetova has written the story with a density of scenes, dialogue, and details that neither she nor any but the most indefatigable of readers can long sustain. The book opens with a blow-by-blow account of a cluster of days in late November through early December, then gradually loosens up into representative episodes, one per season, toward the book’s end. While this structure somewhat mirrors Anna’s journey from control to surrender, the space found in these later pages is a welcome breath of fresh air. The story is likewise cluttered with minor characters—a best friend popping in and out, a stepfather facing a serious illness—that don’t constitute subplots so much as intrusions on the book’s central relationship. (There is even that long-suffering fiancée, Ted, “solid, inside and out,” whose stodgy dullness marks him as expendable from his first entrance.)
The book works best in the scenes between Anna and John. John’s surprising answers to Anna’s interrogations turn the table on her, and the questions they raise, both for her and the reader, create the book’s peak moments of intrigue and suspense.
Densely-written, literate and suspenseful, OVER THE HILLS OF GREEN roots fantasy in the rich, fertile soil of human psychology.
~Michael Quinn for IndieReader