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. Read more...
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."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-07-07
- Reviewer: Staff
An imprisoned monk narrates this fabulist tale from Maguire, which draws inspiration from Russian folklore, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, while incorporating a modern thread about the threat of climate change. On her way to be presented to the Tsar’s godson, wealthy Ekaterina is marooned in a rural village when a broken bridge stops her train. Peasant Elena approaches the luxurious train to beg, and the two girls take tentative steps toward friendship; when the train starts moving again, the wrong one is aboard. The journey to their eventual reunion brings Ekaterina in contact with legendary witch Baba Yaga. Though the setting is circa 1900, Maguire’s riffs are mostly contemporary: Baba Yaga complains about regifting, owns the original cast recording from Damn Yankees, and bemoans that she’s out of “Granny Yaga’s Frozen Tater Tots, made from real tots.” Like the matryoshka doll Elena carries, there are a lot of layers to Maguire’s story. Rich, descriptive language will reward readers who like to sink their teeth into a meaty story. Ages 12–up. Agent: William Reiss, John Hawkins and Associates. (Sept.)
Magical intrigue along Russia's railway
Gregory Maguire steps out of Oz and into Tsarist Russia in this magical twist on the classic prince and the pauper folk tale. Thirteen-year-old Elena is a peasant daughter who scrounges for food during a bleak crop failure. Her mother is dying, and her eldest brother has been taken into the tsar’s army. Except for a few kind villagers, Elena is alone until a train rolls into town. Aboard the train is Ekaterina, a wealthy girl who is headed to Saint Petersburg to impress the tsar’s godson, something she dreads. When the girls accidentally switch places, they each set off on an adventure. Elena goes to the city in hopes of finding her brother while Ekaterina runs into Baba Yaga, the infamous Russian witch full of anachronistic one-liners and crazy schemes. In order to avoid being eaten, Ekaterina agrees to accompany Baba Yaga aboard her enchanted house on legs to Saint Petersburg for an audience with the tsar. When the girls see each other again, their fates are forever entwined.
Maguire weaves themes of class struggle and environmental upheaval into an engaging and relatable tale. This isn’t a story about desolation, but one of hope. Elena and Ekaterina prove that with a little tenacity and bravery, people can change their lives for the better.