I actually finished this before reading Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer, but since it’s a longer book, the review took longer.
From Gregory Maquire, author of Wicked: Set in Tsarist Russia, this is the classic tale of the Prince and the Pauper mixed with elements of other Russian folk tales such as that of Baba Yaga (a witch), the Ice Dragon Žmey Aždaja (don’t ask me to pronounce that), and the famous Firebird. If you’ve read Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising), you’ll recognize some of these figures including Myandash, known in The Grisha series as Morzova’s Stag (I assume it’s the same one. I don’t know how many stags there are in Russian Folklore).
Elena is a peasant girl in the starving town of Miersk, her father dead, her mother ill, and her two brothers MIA. Though the few remaining members of the town are hopeful, it seems everyone will soon die–totally not morbid at all, right?
Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Or rather: everything changes when a train stops in the never-used station due to broken tracks ahead. Inside is the young Ekatrina (or Cat for short) and her Great Aunt Sophia, along with their entourage, headed for St. Petersburg to attend a party in honor of the Tsar’s godson (and, you know, find him a wife). Elena approaches Cat out of curiosity and hope for food, and they become acquaintances (loosely). They both thought that their friendship–if it could be called such–would end once the tracks were fixed and the train had left the station. What they didn’t expect, though, was that as Cat showed Elena the Fabregé egg made by hand, the train would unexpectedly begin moving again. The egg goes rolling towards the open door of the car, Cat goes after it, and they both end up off the train, leaving Elena stranded and moving farther and farther away from Miersk, Cat, and the priced egg.
This is, of course, when things get interesting. The chapters from this part shift in focus from Elena to Cat and back to Elena and so on, wonderfully developing both characters. Cat meets the infamous Baba Yaga, Elena finds the fabled Firebird, and the events that unfold thereafter cause them finally cross paths with each other again in front of the Tsar and his godson, Anton. But the fun doesn’t stop there; no, if anything, this is where the action picks up speed as it’s snowballing down a hill.
I’ll leave the rest to your surprise, as surprises come, but this was a fantastic read. A longer read, maybe, but still fantastic. As soon as Heather told me it was about Russia, culture-obsessed me was all for it, and I was not disappointed.
Probably the most interesting part was the narrator popping in every once in a while to give his two-cents, and even more was when his identity is revealed. Overall, this story is fantastic, and I recommend it to everyone and anyone who loves classic stories with a twist, culture, and folklore.