Reviewed in India on 20 January 2021
Note: I received e-ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. This doesn't affect my review or rating.
AWolf for a Spell was great middle grade fantasy based on Russian folklore that revolved around a wolf-Zima, a human-Nadya, and a witch-Baba Yaga. It was about facing fears and not let it overpower you, doing right things, it’s okay to be different, friendship, belongingness, family, trust, and good vs evil.
Writing was easy, gripping and mesmerising with short chapters. It was third person narrative from Zima, Nadya and Baba Yaga’s perspective that worked perfectly here telling readers about each main characters’ life and what they thought about each other and their situation more clearly. I never felt confused with switch between perspectives. It was easy to follow and didn’t distract me from story of each characters.
Plot was interesting. It had Red Riding Hood feel. I’m not going to repeat the plot as synopsis said it well- how it started, how three different characters had their own issues and goals, and how the body switching spell made things complicated that gave a new twist to their goals and changed their life and perspective. It was interesting to find out what was Baba Yaga’s plan, why she needed a grey wolf for it, how their path connected with each other, and how both Nadya and Zima will face the enemy and make things right.
All three main female characters were flawed, realistic, and relatable and they all developed wonderfully throughout the story. They all were my favourite but I loved Zima and Nadya’s story more.
Zima was brave, strong, fiercely protective of her family and resilient wolf but at the same time she feared and worried a lot for being different than her pack. Her voice and emotions were well portrayed. It was hard for her to voice her thought when it was not appreciated and then meeting Baba Yaga and sparing human life didn’t help her case. But I liked how after being in human body she learned things quickly and how it changed her perspective towards the witch and humans. She saw differences and similarities and found things to learn from humans as well. I admired her determination and how even after all the mess she created, she tried harder to make things right without thinking about dangers arounds her. She developed to be grateful towards her leader and learned to voice her thoughts in right way.
Nadya was kind, lovely, and free-spirited girl. She didn’t like the chores of orphanage and never was good at sewing or any other activities but she loved to wander in forest, she knew forest like home and never feared the dangers of it or from wolves. I felt sad for her when orphanage keeper threatened to send her as servant girl. I could see why she was desperate to go with Katerina and at the same time I admired her bravery for going to Baba Yaga even though she never heard anything good about the witch. I liked how she formed her own opinion after meeting the witch, helped Katerina despite of all the dangers around her and did right thing. I liked her development, how she learned to stood up for herself, realised nobody is perfect, everyone had their own issue in life, and found home and family she was looking for all this time.
Baba Yaga was interesting character. We know most of her story and how she had powers through Zima and her attempt in knowing what was her plan. This formidable old witch was strong and wise yet she was not very different from Zima and Nadya. She too lived a lonely life because of her past mistakes and let fear overpower her life for so many years. But her journey through forest changed her a lot, she realised she had to make things right on her own rather than depending on others or making others do it for her. She was infamous but definitely was amazing and every young reader would love her.
World was fascinating with witches, animals and villagers all living in and around the magical forest. I enjoyed reading how the forest seemed all consuming and dangerous with deadly streams, poisonous plants, and hidden dark holes to caves in ground that could trap anyone for days and yet it helped everybody living in and around it, gave power and protection to all creatures. Baba Yaga’s loyal egoistic hut was fun to read. Snow storms, evil villain and forbidding palace and its corridors added tension to story. Despite of this dark world it never felt heavy and gloomy as characters were not affected or harmed by it which made it perfect for middle grade readers.
Twist and turns were good. I couldn’t guess if Baba Yaga would arrive back in time and how they were going to fight their common enemy. Climax was interesting. I was glad to see Zima take control over things and lead witches, humans and wolves in right direction and how they fought against evil together. End was sad but they all found what they were missing in life.
One thing I would like to mention was there was minor pacing issue. Some readers found second half slow I found the middle part a bit slow but there wasn’t any major negative point so it definitely can be overlooked.
Overall, A Wolf for a Spell magical, beautiful, imaginative, and well written fantasy based on Russian folklore with classic good vs evil theme and perfect middle grade and young readers.