Goodreads: A Question of Magic
Published: October 1, 2013
Serafina was living the normal life of a village girl, when she gets a mysterious letter–her first letter ever, in fact–from a great aunt she’s never heard of in another village. Little does ‘Fina know, her great aunt is actually a Baba Yaga, a magical witch who lives in an even more magical cottage.
Summoned to the cottage, Serafina’s life takes an amazing turn as she finds herself becoming the new Baba Yaga. But leaving behind home and the boy she loves isn’t easy, and as Serafina grows into her new and magical role answering the first question any stranger might ask her with the truth, she also learns about the person she’s meant to be, and that telling the future doesn’t always mean knowing the right answers.
In her inimitable and bestselling way, ED Baker has crafted a funny and romantic story that combines some fabulous details from the original Slavic tale, with an all new spin!
E. D. Baker is already well-known and loved for her middle grade fairy tale retellings (most notably The Frog Princess), but she takes her work in an entirely new direction with this spin on Baba Yaga. I love unusual fairy tale retellings, and this one definitely fits the bill; it’s the only Baba Yaga story I’ve ever read! It helps, of course, that E. D. Baker writes it beautifully and packs it full of feisty, good-hearted characters.
Serafina will win readers over from the beginning of the novel. In so many ways, Serafina is real. When told she must be the new Baba Yaga, and be tied to a house with chicken feet, away from family and friends, she panics. Naturally. When she realizes she cannot outrun this fate, however, she returns to it with determination, drawing on the wisdom her mother has given her to be the best Baba Yaga she can be. And when in sinks it that being Baba Yaga probably means she cannot marry her childhood sweetheart, she laughs at tired old plot devices. She doesn’t try to tell him she no longer loves him and thus cause unnecessary and ridiculous drama; she tells him the truth. Serafina makes plausible, well-informed decisions in the face of inexplicable magic and is thus is a remarkably believable and relatable protagonist.
A Question of Magic, through Serafina’s journey as Baba Yaga, also explores a lot of fantastic questions about ethics and responsibility. It turns out that, as Baba Yaga and cursed to answer one question truthfully from anyone who asks, one often has to tell people things they do not want to hear. One occasionally destroys lives. Serafina confronts this fact bravely, attempting to guide her visitors to choose their questions wisely, but ultimately accepting that they are responsible for their own decisions. The book suggests that truth is a powerful thing, without necessarily suggesting it is dangerous and without telling readers what to do with it.
Beyond the fun give and take of questions and answers, the book has a fun, fast-moving plot that takes Serafina in a wide variety of directions. On a practical level, Baba Yaga has to move often and sometimes quickly (due to the whole people not liking the answers they get thing). This means Serafina gets to travel and experience a range of locations and meet a lot of different people, both magical and not.
But Serafina also has her own web of mini plot lines. She has to deal with learning the tasks of Baba Yaga, she must evade some people determined to track her down and use her magic to their benefit, she must figure out how to tell her family about her new role, and she has to search for a way to end the Baba Yaga curse. Surprisingly, this is not too much for a book of this length at all. The various threads all weave together and take just about the right amount of time (an exception being near the end, when one character accomplishes a list of “difficult” tasks questionably quickly). The story has about the perfect blend of action and character development.
Readers of the blog might remember I had a few yawns for The Frog Princess, but E. D. Baker has won me over with A Question of Magic. It has well-rounded characters, an interesting plot, and a lovely sprinkling of magic. If this is the direction Baker’s books are taking, I will continue to read them!