5 Amazing YA Russian Fantasy Books

Reading is obviously the best thing ever for a myriad of reasons, but one thing I particularly love about it is: the ability to travel without leaving your comfy reading nook. So what could be better than nestling down with some books inspired by other countries, mythologies and cultures? I particularly adore epic fantasy with Russian influences! Russia is such an amazing country, with a complex and interesting history. Just add in a bit of magic. A dollop of teenage heroes saving the day. A smidge of adventure. And you’re sure to have a novel that will win admiration!

Today I’m listing 5 amazing Young Adult fantasy books with Russian influences!


 

SHADOW AND BONE

BUY HERE
BUY HERE

This is one of my most favourite epic fantasy series ever! And for a bonus? It’s set in the country of Ravka which has decidedly glorious Russian influences. It’s all about the Grisha, who are magicians employed by the throne, and they’re separated into warriors or scientists or artists or healers. The story follows Alina who’s just discovered she is a Grisha and is being trained for battle.

It has action and adventure and several darkly villainous characters you might accidentally fall in love with while they do evil to do “good” in their opinions.

 

EGG AND SPOON

BUY HERE

This is by the famous author of the novel Wicked! It gloriously mixes many Russian folklores into this complex tale centring about Baba Yaga, the infamous witch. It stars a very poor girl, Elena, who’s starving, and accidentally gets caught up with a noble family on a train and swaps places with their rich daughter. In an effort to see the Tsar and help her brother who’s been stolen off to war, Elena tries to play the part of rich noble…and fails spectacularly. While Eketerina is off having perilous adventures enlisting the devious with Baba Yaga to help her get home.

Baba Yaga’s sass is basically the greatest thing you’ll ever read. It’s quite a long and slow novel, but so worth it for the magical and creative tale!

 

VASSA IN THE NIGHT

BUY HERE

This one is a little different to the others, because while it is still fantasy, it’s modern fantasy! It’s set in present-day-Brooklyn in the USA where the city suddenly is losing daylight. The nights are getting longer and it’s a bit of a problem. It also features a convenience store with the fearsome Babs Yagg who owns it and also cuts off shoplifter’s heads and displays them in the windows. A girl named Vassa and her magical doll end up tricked into Babs Yagg’s servitude. But leaving alive will be an interesting challenge.

This book is absolutely bizarre! In the best possible way! It captures the heart of so many vibrant folk tales, gives them a modern twist, and adds in magical realism elements that will thrill and disturb.

 

THE WOLF WILDER

BUY HERE

This is a gorgeously written tale about a girl who raises wolves in the woods with her mother. It’s popular for the rich to keep wolves as pets, but when they tire of them, the wolves get “released” into the wild…only to die because they can’t take care of themselves. Feo trains them to be wild again. Only when the army comes to call and disturbs her life, she ends up begin swept up in the revolution instead. This book is really beautiful and features lovely illustrations!

 

THE CROWN’S GAME

BUY HERE
BUY HERE

This is a historical based Russian fantasy, set in the time of the Tsars. But just add in a little magic, okay? It features two enchanters, Nikolai and Vika, who must compete in a challenge to become the Tsar’s own enchanter. And there can only be one. With the stakes so high it’s impossible to put the book down! The magic is beautiful and imaginative and features the two enchanters creating amazing and incredible things as they try to display who’s more powerful while avoiding falling in love. It also features a rambunctious prince and the casual destruction of everything you love.

And even better: The sequel and stunning conclusion, The Crown’s Fate, is coming out in May! So this is a perfect time to start this series.

Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

9780765380548Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter is a completely magical and bizarre retelling of Russian folklore. Seriously, it was just about the weirdest thing ever. But in a good way! Just toss out your black-and-white-logical-brain because when it comes to fairy tales you need to be prepared for the weird and wacky. Especially for Russian folklore! We have houses on chicken legs and talking dolls and body-less-hands gallivanting around. It’s magical realism at its finest!

I’m a big fan of Russian folklore and I recently read Deathless which definitely prepared me for what Vassa in the Night would be like. Although this book isn’t actually set in Russia. It’s set in Brooklyn, USA, which was a teeny bit disappointing because I love being transported overseas. But the amazingness of the story definitely made up for this failed expectation.

Basically it’s the story of Vassa who is living with her step-sisters and feels very alone in the world. She lives in a city where people know there’s magic, but don’t always acknowledge it. The nights are getting longer (which means a minute might actually be…a day) and there is an insanely creepy stare run by Babs who beheads shoplifters. Vassa accidentally ends up being hired by the witchy Babs and must survive the next 3 days working in the store where body-less hands patrol and the money tries to run away — or else DEATH.

I quite enjoyed reading about Vassa! She was pretty snarky but still kind of adorable and venerable which is a winning combination and made it easy to root for her. Most of the time she just rolled with it when the world was going insane. She also has a magical talking doll that was gifted to her by her mother right before she died. The talking doll, Erg, eats and eats and eats and is also a kleptomaniac. But she’s the only true friend Vassa has.

The magical realism element is definitely my favourite. I love magic and I loved how it fit seamlessly into this world. I mean we have a shop that beheads shoplifters and people turning into swans and, oh, don’t let me forget that the Night got trapped inside a motorcyclist. And the crazy elements of the magic totally made my day. Particularly the stretching of time! And how people could appear covered in scales and everyone just went with it.

Chelsea snorts with disbelief, clamps an arm around my shoulders, and starts hustling me towards the street. “Tomorrow you can send the owner a note explaining everything. Say that you’re terribly sorry but your family refuses to let you work for a serial killer. Blame me if you want. Oh, my sister’s so overprotective! She just wouldn’t listen when I told her dismembering people doesn’t bother me!”

The Russian retelling element is definitely a big reason why I wanted to read it. It’s specifically a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful who, in the original, gets stuck in the witch Baba Yaga’s home and must complete three impossible tasks (with the help of her magic doll) before she’s allowed to go free. I loved seeing how the original elements were woven into this. So clever! And so unique!

Plus the story also has some severely creeptastic moments, which should make your skin crawl. Truly delightful.

This is definitely an ethereal, bizarre specimen of a fairy tale retelling and I totally recommend it! I half wish had been a little darker all the way through, instead of piling the creepy moments up at the end. But it was beautifully written, exciting, and totally unique. Also you can take away the very important message that: SHOPPING KILLS. We should all just stay home and order things online, honestly. Less risk of being beheaded by a witch or turned into a swan.

 

[BUY NOW]

What Came First: the Egg or the Spoon?

WickedMost people know of the musical Wicked, a revisionist telling of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz that empathises with the ‘bad’ witch, but not everyone knows that it is inspired by Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years series: Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz. He’s written other books for adults, including short stories, and has a range of books for children and young adults. I particularly like What the Dickens: the Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy and his latest, Egg & Spoon.

In Egg & Spoon (Candlewick Press) Maguire has again featured a witch. This time it is the wacky Baba Yaga from Russian folklore whose forest hut runs around on chicken legs. (Incidentally, Anna and Barbara Fienberg also wrote about Baba Yaga for much younger children in Tashi and the Baba Yaga and the talented Geraldine McCaughrean wrote a picture book about Baba Yaga, Grandma Chickenlegs, illustrated by Moira Kemp.) Baba Yaga is the source of sly humour in Egg & Spoon and a gateway to the Russian tradition and culture that is interwoven into the story.

 

Egg & SpoonTwo thirteen-year old girls of very different backgrounds, Elena is a peasant with a dying mother and conscripted brother and Ekaterina (Cat) is from a wealthy background who is lined up to possibly marry the Prince, meet when Cat’s train to St Petersburg breaks down. They circle each other, drawn by their similarities and differences, until Elena accidentally takes Cat’s place. The opportunity to try to petition the Tsar for her brother’s release is too great for Elena to miss and so she takes Cat’s identity.

 

The Faberge egg that Cat’s chaperone Great-Aunt Sophia has had made to impress the Tsar and his godson, the Prince, is a symbol of exotic Russian folklore. It is covered in designs with three openings cut into it like windows or scenes from a theatre. They show the magic flying Firebird, a phoenix; the albino ice-dragon, Zmey-Azdaja; and Baba Yaga and her house.

 

Baba Yaga is the source of most of the novel’s humour. When she disguises herself as Cat’s governess she says, ‘I am getting to like this martinet drag … It brings out my inner Mary Poppinskaya.’ And when the Prince tells her that he knows all about suffering from reading Dostoyevsky and Balzac, Baba Yaga retorts, ‘You want suffering. I’ll kick you in your Balzac.’

 

Egg & Spoon is attracting wide acclaim. It is a gorgeous hard-cover gift book for young adults and adults. What the Dickens