Twelve-year-old Serafina lives in a fantasy medieval world. She's pretty satisfied with her life; she knows that in a few years she'll marry her childhood friend, Alek, she loves her family, and she's happy in their simple home in the town. Then she receives a mysterious letter from a great-aunt she never knew she had and travels to a nearby village to find out what her hinted-at inheritance is.
Turns out, she's the new Baba Yaga. Serafina is at turns terrified, angry and bewildered. Eventually, she figures out some of how the magic works. As the new Baba Yaga, she must answer the first question of anyone who asks. The magic lets her always give the right answer, but she can't choose the question and she can never answer more than one. Every question makes her older. Serafina starts to see that there's a wider world than she ever knew. She meets magical creatures and powerful people, makes new friends, and flees from dangerous enemies. Through it all, however, she never stops trying to get back to Alek and her home.
There are so many things I love about this story...Serafina is a practical, do-it-yourself kind of girl. When she realizes she's trapped, she does everything she can to find a solution and get back to her home, but she also enjoys the new things she's learning, seeing, and doing. When she finally runs out of resources, she's not afraid to ask for help and depend on her family. Her romance with Alek is just perfect. Although her age may put some people off, it's appropriate for the medieval-type world she lives in. Her interactions with Alek are perfect for the middle grade crowd, focusing on their friendship and strong love for each other. There's enough to give readers a little dreamy thrill, but nothing inappropriate and I loved the way Serafina realizes that her tribulations and experiences have given her a new appreciation for Alek and her home. I also loved that Serafina, while she did her best in her job to help people, never succumbed to "I am the chosen one who must save the world" fantasy tropes. War is shown as a messy, painful thing where everyone suffers and there aren't always good people just waiting to help out Serafina when she gets into trouble. People are just...people. Weird, good, bad, and sometimes upset at what she says, even when it's the Baba Yaga and not herself talking. As always, E. D. Baker is funny, thoughtful, and writes a story that hangs together well and is will catch the attention of the average middle grade reader.
Verdict: Hand this to all your fantasy-loving kids who like adventure, magical creatures, a spunky heroine and a little romance. Definitely recommend.
ISBN: 9781599908557; Published October 2013 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual 2013; Added to the library's order list