Hello! I’m Nicholas Kotar, and I write epic fantasy inspired by Russian fairy tales.
Russian fairy tales are a fascinating blend of the beautiful, the macabre, and the bizarre. If you read them, you’ll encounter fantastical creatures like firebirds, dragons with many heads, shape-shifters, paradise birds with the heads of beautiful women and the bodies of eagles, hags with dubious loyalties, and nature spirits that sometimes help the hero, but sometimes want to eat them alive.
But underneath all the arresting strangeness, there’s a well of profound and even spiritual meaning that makes these stories worth returning to again and again. In fact, as Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin suggests in his wonderful lecture “The Spiritual Meaning of Stories,” they are indispensable for those of us who have lost our ability to see and appreciate the beautiful and transcendent in life.
I take these fairy tale settings and tropes as inspiration for new explorations of both epic and intimate battles of good against evil. The authors that inspire me the most are J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Gene Wolfe, N. K. Jemisin, and Catherynne M. Valente.
A Lamentation of Sirin
My first novel is a literary epic fantasy retelling of the classic Russian fairy tale “Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf.” It is a character-driven hero’s journey similar to Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight, and N. K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon.
Legends tell of a song so powerful, it can overthrow kingdoms and raise mankind to the heights of the divine. Inspired by the song, builders carved cities out of mountains, warriors slew shape-shifting terrors, and queens healed thousands with a single hand. But long ago the song faded into memory.
Now the sun is darkened by omen, blight sweeps the land, and rumors abound of an ancient evil ascendant.
And now the song returns. Voran, a young warrior of Vasyllia, encounters the mysterious singer, and her song takes flame in his heart, plunging him into a fateful quest through doorways leading to other worlds, to encounters with riddling giant heads and seductive river-nymphs, to a confrontation at the very edge of the world with the Raven—a formless spirit who feeds on the souls of those he possesses.
Voran’s journey is a trial—of faith in a world of doubt, love in a world of selfishness, beauty in a world of ugliness. But the deeper he ventures, the greater his fear that the only way to save his world is to let it be destroyed.
A Lamentation of Sirin will be published by Waystone Press on July 1, 2017.
The Garden in the Heart of the World
This sequel to A Lamentation of Sirin is inspired by another famous Russian fairy tale, “Finist the Bright Falcon.”
It will be published on December 15, 2017 by Waystone Press.
The more I researched the history that shaped Russian fairy tales, the more I was astounded by the wealth of information I found. However, most of it is in Russian, and it seemed unfortunate that more people couldn’t enjoy it in English. So I began to translate some of the articles and posts I found and to feature them it on my blog. The deeper I dig, the more fascinating the traditions and culture get. Here are some of my favorites:
- Seven Things You’ve Never Heard about Russian Weddings
- Five Myths about Russian Cuisine
- Cossack Family Values
I typically blog twice a week, including an occasional book review. If you’d like to receive updates about new blog posts, please sign up for my email list:
I am a freelance translator from Russian to English, specializing in literary, historical, and religious texts. Here are some of the books I’ve translated the past few years.
See my translations page for more information.
I conduct Russian sacred music and an occasional tenor soloist. I am the resident conductor of the Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary Men’s Choir in Jordanville, NY. Previously, I conducted the St. John of San Francisco Men’s Chorale (see our recordings here) and the St. Cyrill and Methodius Youth Choir in the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, CA.
As a soloist, I have performed in several Classical works, including Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Handel’s Messiah, J.S. Bach’s The Passion according to St. John, and Brahms’s Zigeunerlieder. I am also a featured soloist on Ensemble Cherubim’s recent recording of Bortniansky’s concertos (purchase here).
You can hear an example of my solo work here.
I come from a family of Russian immigrants who moved from Russia after the Revolution, and I grew up in what was essentially a Russian ghetto in San Francisco. I spoke Russian before I spoke English.
My sister and I were homeschooled until a bright and sunny day when my mom had had enough of cat-herding. So she decided to open a school (thinking it would be less of a hassle, I suppose?), which she and my dad then administered for the next twenty years of their life (without taking a penny for it). This school, St. John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy, is a shining light of classical education in the Orthodox Christian community.
After graduating from UC Berkeley (yes, I studied Russian Literature, how did you guess?), I came back to teach in St. John’s for seven years. Those years were formative for me and for many of the teachers, because of the talent of the faculty. There were poets, philosophers, politicians, and musicians among my colleagues, and our regular tea-fueled conversations by the fireplace had something of the Inklings about them.
Eventually, a few of us teachers joined up to form a storytelling troupe, of sorts, called Conquering Time. We were an ensemble of performance and visual artists that staged original works of storytelling and traditional music. We also published some original poetry and prose.
My collaboration with Conquering Time produced four semi-staged musical pieces that we performed on both coasts of the US, France, and Russia. It also inspired me to write a novel called Raven Son, which was the kernel that eventually became A Lamentation of Sirin, my first completed novel.
Here is a clip of a choral selection from Conquering Time’s performance piece titled “The Gift”
I have always loved to travel, and have been to every continent except Antarctica (and I’ve love to go there). Some of my travels were missionary trips to build houses for the poor or to instruct local Christian communities in the rudiments of the faith. Some were for my own edification, such as a summer in London studying theater (I met Ralph Fiennes. Lovely man!) I even spent a month and a half in a remote island monastery in the north of Russia (yes, in winter).
Finally, I decided to enter Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, NY, which I completed in May 2014. My family and I are still based in Jordanville, where I conduct the male choir and teach music and pretend to be a homesteader. Our little house in the cow country is the best place from which to write.