Vasilisa (Old Rus #1) by Julie Mathison
Three witches, two children, one ogre — and nowhere to run.
It’s 1919, but in Edenfall, Pennsylvania, the Great War is not over — not for Vasilisa, at least. Papa is presumed dead on the fields of Flanders, Mama is being courted by an absolute ogre, and now Babka, her beloved grandma, has had a bad spell. Or has she fallen under one? Only the Old Tales, the Russian fables Vasilisa was raised on, offer any comfort or counsel.
But what if they are more than child’s tales?
Enter Ivan, who jumps a train for Edenfall at midnight and finds Vasilisa in a real fix. Old Rus is calling from across time and both worlds, and if they heed the call, they might both get what they want. It won’t be easy. Three witches, two children, one ogre – they’re outnumbered and outclassed. Baba Yaga and Old Koschei are after the same thing — and each other — and the children are caught in the crosshairs. Vasilisa has a secret weapon, in the humblest of guises, but will the meek truly inherit the earth? Or will the mighty prevail? One thing is certain: it’s a fairy tale of their own making, a tale whose happy ending is ever in doubt.
The time is 1919, and a young girl named Vasilisa is living in Pennsylvania with her Russian family. Her mother is grieving over Vasilisa’s father who’s still missing from the war. Now someone new wants to marry her mother, and Vasilisa has to fight to get things back to normal again. With the help of a boy named Ivan, who has his own ambitions, they go on a magical adventure to resolve their problems. Vasilisa’s hope is to save her family once and for all.
Reading fairy tales is one of my favorite things to do, and I just love retellings, so I couldn’t wait to read Vasilisa the moment I saw it. Having Russian roots, I’m always drawn into Russian folklore. I found Vasilisa fresh, unique, and interesting. Loved the writing, loved the story and characters, and especially the themes of courage, family, and friendship. There’s so much going on in this story with a setting in the real world and Old Rus. In addition, some of the character names are identical to members of my own family which was another fun element.
With that said, I’m not positive that this will be a captivating story for all younger middle-grade readers. I can only go by how my two middle-grade readers felt about this book, and it wasn’t a story that kept their full interest to the end. The narrative does get complex at times, and how I wish there was a glossary of terms like the one that was included in The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s really necessary for those who don’t know Russian or the pronunciations because it becomes tedious to have to repeatedly stop to Google terms. Maybe other middle-grade readers will enjoy this more than mine did, but some parts of the writing and the romance between Ivan and Vasilisa made the book feel more like upper middle-grade to me. This is just my opinion. Other than that, Vasilisa is excellent.
- Publisher : Starr Creek Press (February 23, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 310 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1735003743
- ISBN-13 : 978-1735003740
- Reading age : 9 – 12 years
This is book #3 on my 2021 Retelling Reading Challenge. To see what I’m reading for this challenge you can click here.
Thanks for reading my review! Have you read any good fairy tales or retellings lately? You can share your thoughts below if you’d like.