Published: April 20th 2021
Format: eBook (ARC)
Tags: Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Sisters, Magic, Witches
| Synopsis from the Publisher |
In the land of Tsaretsvo, civil war has divided the human kingdom from the Republic of Birds. Magic is outlawed, and young witches are sent to a mysterious boarding school, from which no one has returned. Olga and her family live a life of dull privilege in the capital until her father displeases the tyrannical tsarina. The family is sent off into exile at the Imperial Center for Avian Observation, an isolated shack near the Republic of Birds. Unlike the rest of her family, Olga doesn’t particularly mind their strange new life. She never fit into aristocratic society as well as her perfect younger sister, Mira. What does worry Olga is her blossoming magical abilities. If anyone found out, they’d send her away. But then Mira is kidnapped by the birds, and Olga has no choice but to enter the forbidden Republic, a dangerous world full of iagas, talking birds, and living dreams. To navigate the Republic and save her sister, she’ll need her wits, her cunning—and even her magic.
Keywords to describe this book: plot-driven, action-oriented, fast-paced
I received a complimentary copy of this book from ABRAMS Kids & Amulet Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
I really enjoyed this book! It’s a very pretty fantasy – and I say that because the worldbuilding and the linking to Russian culture, like the magic system of Yagas and the monarchy system of Tsars & Tsarinas, all make for an image in my mind of typical Russian architectures, settings, and clothing. The main character, Olga’s, sister is a budding ballerina. Their stepmother is an actress and she is often described as draped in sumptuous furs and jewelry (so much so that she jangles when she moves!). I could so easily picture this world and it’s all very fanciful and folkloric.
I really enjoyed the magic system of this world. The war between the birds and humans also caused a banishment yagas, or witches, and anyone who shows any magical affinity is banished to the Bleak Steppe, a place that is rumored to be a torturous, painful end to those sent there. Yaga magic is tied to a particular medium – an affinity to water, or spiders, or silver, it could be anything. I really enjoyed seeing the various ways and methods for using this magic. It makes for a really fun element to the story.
The plot is also nicely paced. The story is very plot-driven, so it lends itself to being a page-turner. You get pulled easily from one event to the next. I found myself eagerly reading another chapter and another chapter. I didn’t discover any slow moments. It almost goes along too quickly, but I chalk this up to the fact that this book is a middle-grade story and thus the pacing has to match a younger reader’s habits, which means less time lingering on certain moments and more action to keep the reader going. I would have loved to spend more time getting more descriptive moments, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment.
I like the characters in this book, but I wish they had a little more depth. Olga is the most fleshed-out character, as she’s the main character. She fits the general mold of the “not special” child, the ordinary girl who doesn’t have any special gifts or talents and is outshined by her sibling, in this case her sister’s skilled dancing. The story focuses on developing Olga’s character as one who doesn’t believe she is anything special or has nothing to offer to someone who sees value in herself and discovers a gift in herself. Olga’s sister Mira, their stepmother and father, and the other cast of secondary characters are not given enough time to really be more than two-dimensional.
This lack of character development is the only aspect of the book that I wish could be better, and it’s also what kept me from giving it a higher rating, because in every other way I think the story is well done! I think the writing is good and it works well as a middle-grade level fantasy.
| My Rating |
Definitely Worth the Read
Really interesting world-building, inspired by Russian culture. I love the magic system, the Yagas, which is familiar, yet newly spun in this tail. The main character is relatable and her journey is compelling. The book moves quickly, but it reads well as a middle-grade novel. The writing is perfect for the age intended. I would love to see more stories in this world. I would definitely recommend it to readers looking for a fantasy adventure.