I believe there is a certain amount of fate and luck when it comes to reading. Picking up the right book at the right time is crucial for a mood reader and there have been many times when I found a book I wanted to read but just couldn’t slide into for whatever reason. Sometimes I’m able to set it aside and come back, sometimes they never get their time to shine. Luckily, this book and I finally clicked on the third attempt and I’m just so glad it all worked out for me!!
This is an historical fantasy stand-alone set in Russia. The witch Yaga lives in her hut on chicken legs in the forest in 1560. The Tsaritsa Anastasia, wife of Ivan (soon to be the Terrible), visits for healing and convinces Yaga to return with her to Moscow to help find who is poisoning the Tsaritsa. We follow Yaga through Ivan’s reign of terror, which is given a supernatural edge in this story.
I found this book fascinating. I know very very little Russian history or culture or language, so it was a slower read as I kept setting the book down to look things up. This wasn’t necessary to enjoy the story, but I’m one of those people who has to know what’s historic and what’s fantasy – there’s a good Author’s Note at the end that goes into the facts if you are the type of person who can wait until the end.
Beyond the very Russian-ness of this story, it was just a really beautiful book! Yaga is my favorite sort of character, a strong, independent woman a little out of step with the culture around her and unbothered by it. In the book she is not a withered evil hag, but an immortal demigod, daughter of the Earth Goddess. She loves fiercely and fights to protect the people around her. There are gods and legends and magic, but it is a very human tale at heart. If you like fantasy firmly rooted in our reality with a strong female lead who discovers love and life while battling supernatural forces and common sexism, this may be the right book for you too.