Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
Baba Yaga is perhaps the most famous witch outside of Oz. If it, then she is tied with the White Queen from Narnia. She is old, ugly, tough as nails in boots, and doesn’t take crap from anyone. All that said, to call her evil isn’t quite right. She is, to a degree; I mean she has a taste for young flesh, but there is something about her that defies easy classification. Even when comparing her cannibalistic urges to the witch from “Hansel and Gretel”, Baba Yaga seems less bloodthirsty, and more testing. She is a test.
This Baba Yaga tale focuses mostly on that aspect of the witch, though to call her warm and fuzzy would be incorrect. The protagonist is Masha, a young woman whose widowed father is remarrying and who seems to be more warm and fuzzy towards his new family in the offering than his own daughter. This aspect of the story will no doubt anger some parents, but while a more concrete view of her father’s feelings one way or another would have been nice, it also sounds somewhat false to the story itself. Sometimes, we just don’t know.
It is because the story does not follow the standard trope and plot of melding two
families that it stands out. Masaha’s encounters with Baba Yaga are drawn from Russian folklore and there are brief retellings of a few traditional Baba Yaga tales, but the emphasis is on a modern girl trying to, not so much find her place, but as trying to discover who she is, or to get back to who is. It is more about the connection between mothers and daughters than anything else. This is made clear with Masha’s memories of her grandmother, a more prominent figure than her mother, a character who makes her presence felt though her absence.
The illustrations to this graphic novel seemed to be designed to appear to children. There is abundant use of bright colors, and during the retellings of the Russian folklore, there is almost a cartoonish feel. This is not intended to be negative criticism. The feeling is one of Disney has a love child with Anime. There are some humorous touches, in particular when Masha encounters both Baba Yaga’s house and bear. These small points make good use of modern teen’s reaction to some fairy tales.
Perhaps the best part of the novel is Masha herself, a young woman who is not condemned by anyone for being bad nor good. She is refreshing normal and every day.