A messenger delivering dangerous secrets. A symbol of the shadow self, the dark side of the human psyche. And, in our culture, a creature associated with death and gore. Horrifyingly black and deadly intelligent. This is the raven that comes to Hanka—to tear her mind apart.

He claims to bring prophecies, and this promise opens her mind to him. If she tries hard, says the raven, she can divine the future and save the people she loves. If only Hanka could decipher the clues, if only she had enough time. I can’t do it—but I can’t give up. These contradictory thoughts start to erode Hanka’s mind.

Each riddle seems more complicated than the previous one, and Hanka has no one to help her. The raven is her only friend. But he is also her tormentor, with his corrosive riddles and repulsive rhymes. At night he takes Hanka to dream worlds where disasters erupt—all around her people die in agony, and Hanka suffers along with them. I am their only hope she thinks. I have to ignore the pain. Despite her body’s cries for mercy, she perseveres, continuing to travel with the raven in the night. I have to guess—I have to solve the riddle. And the raven confirms it. Yes, he says. You have to, pulling her deeper and deeper into the game.

Hanka’s days are horrifying as well, but everyday life is at least a little easier to bear—she’s used to her mother’s violence, and accustomed to the fact her father can’t do much about it. She has ways to escape Sabina’s abuse, and she knows that she has to be on alert when her mother is drunk. Focus on the prophecies. Given her higher purpose, family violence is something she simply has to put up with.

She has no choice but to follow the raven, no matter how far he leads—to the very edges of sanity. Sometimes she falters, trying to chase him away, but she always returns to him, begging for new clues. You have to tell me more! And as she gets older, her desperation grows along with her, becomes part of her, laying down deep roots in her mind.

Hanka is sure that the day will come when she successfully deciphers one of the prophecies, but in the meantime her loved ones are dying as a result of her failure. Driven by guilt, she accepts the tortures and insults the raven heaps upon her and rejects anyone who shows an interest in helping her. Not now. Not until the day comes when she succeeds, washing away everything she’s been through.

Absolute Sunset is an overwhelming, heartbreaking story—a disturbing tale that will stay with you long after you close the book. As will the raven—he is going to peck your mind to pieces, as he did with Hanka. He will make you question your sanity, your morality, your capacity to withstand violence. What would you do in Hanka’s place?

The answer may surprise you—beware.

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