Source: eARC via Netgalley | Candlewick Press
My Rating: 1.5 of 5 stars :star 1/2
Published: September 9th, 2014
Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg — a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and — in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured — Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.
I'm not usually one to build books up too much before reading them. I just try not to. My opinions and views can be so different from others sometimes. I love some of the well-liked and popular series, and hate others. I guess we all do. I do have my favorite authors, usually established after years of reading and liking their books. Like Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, and Gregory Maguire. Yep, Gregory Maguire is on the list of top ten authors. I have read and loved his Wicked series numerous times since I was in high school. I like how his writing creeps up on you, you suddenly find yourself crying over a character you thought you hated and didn't care about.
So when I saw he was releasing a middle grade stand alone book, I squee'd with excitement! I requested the ARC, got it, and was SO happy I couldn't wait to start. Plus, it historical fantasy based on the Russian folklore and fairy tale of Baba Yaga. I was so sure it was going to be brilliant, I hadn’t really thought of any other possibility. That’s why there's no easy way of saying this. I was extremely disappointed in this book. It didn’t live up to my expectations at all. I'm going to try to spell out why:
- The pacing was horrendous. I can’t even tell you how bad it was. The first 1/3 of the book, nothing happened. It was so boring I wanted to slam my head against the wall. Look, I read books fast. I read YA and MG books in one day if they’re good.
- It didn’t feel like a middle grade book. The vocabulary was incredibly advanced. I had to look up a few words. I don’t think I’ve ever had to look up words in a middle grade novel. Even in YA, it's rare. Adult novels, sure, and I look forward to learning new words when I’m reading an adult book. But when I’m in the mood for a middle grade book – it’s because I DON'T want to be reading a slow paced book. I especially don’t want to read something that has complicated and obscure words as filler.
*Examples of words I was annoyed at finding within a middle grade novel: [ proboscis, flotsam, calliope, soporific, cupola, calve, farrago]. I'm not opposed to kids looking up words in books, not at
all. But all of these combined (there were many more, I just highlighted a few) made it feel super pretentious.
When I think about the fact that kids ages 9-12+ will be reading this, it makes me wonder. I can’t help but think they won’t finish it. If I almost abandoned it for not having that levity and fresh air that is necessary in a great middle grade novel, I think a kid who is probably less patient than I am will not give it a chance.
- Baba Yaga DIDN'T GET INTRODUCED UNTIL 1/3 WAY IN. What a disappointment! She definitely livened up the novel, and should have at least been introduced earlier. I thought she was funny and a great character. One of the most redeeming facets of this novel was baba yaga and how she was portrayed.
So, with all these faults, why did I give it two stars? I think, I had to give it 1.5 stars because the ending and latter half of the book did pick up. Once the deception was brought to light, the plot became infinitely more manageable, interesting, and made more sense to me. It felt more like a middle grade novel at that point. For me though, it was pretty much too little too late. I won’t be buying this novel. I don’t even think I’ll recommend it to any young adults.
I would maybe recommend this to an avid Maguire reader, only after assuring them this is perhaps his worst work (aside from Mirror Mirror). He should stick with adult literature, as that is where he excels. I think with better pacing, and less adult vocabulary this book could have been salvageable. As it is, it was boring and didn’t have the spontaneity and lightness that is necessary for a successful middle grade novel. Also, if it takes me 30 days to finish a novel..I can't really recommend it to many people.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.