The Witch and the Tsar is perfect winter reading and I enjoyed it very much. Set in the Russia of Ivan the Terrible. He is the Tsar that the witch Yaga is pitched against in the title.
This folklore retelling of Baba Yaga mythos is engaging and dramatic. If you’ve been reading my reviews you know I have a soft spot for feminst retellings of traditionally vilified women characters and The Witch and the Tsar does this really well.
Yaga is a demi god, daughter of Mokosh. She is a Vedmar (witch) a healer and midwife she travels from place to place. Until she is called out in this christianised country. She is summoned to the court of Ivan to nurse the Tsarista and her old friend Anastasia. There are are powers at play beyond Yaga’s understanding and Ivan turns on her when she fails to save her friend.
This is a book about family, about being a woman who does not conform. It is about fighting for the right cause and standing up to oppressors. There is an urgency to the novel. I couldn’t put it down, dying to know what was going to happen next and how Yaga would pick her battles. With her owl Noch and her wolf Dyen. I loved the characterisation of her Little Hen the cottage with chicken legs. Elements from the myths such as her motar and pestle were referenced ways which made me smile.
One of the key characters is Vasily, a friend of the Tsar’s son. A leader in the rebellion against Ivan the Terrible and Yaga’s love interest. Their relationship is absolutely joyous and his character whilst flawed as we all are, still consistently warmed my heart with just how good he was for Yaga. Serious relationsip goals right there.
With a mix of historical characters, slavic gods and fictional characters Olesya Salnikova Gilmore has created a lush world I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
The Witch and the Tsar is out today and is published by Harper Voyager.