The Witch and the Tsar

The Witch and the Tsar


Yaga lives deep in the Russian forest, tending to any that call upon her for her healing potions and vast wisdom.

She has been alone for centuries, with only her beloved animals for company. But, when Tsaritsa Anastasia, wife of Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, shows up at Yaga’s cottage on the brink of death, Yaga is compelled to travel with her to Moscow to keep her safe.

However, the Russia Yaga sees as she makes her journey to the heart of the country is one on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan – soon to become Ivan the Terrible – grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

Set in sixteenth-century Russia, The Witch and the Tsar upends the stories we know of Baba Yaga as the bony-legged witch of Slavic fairy tales and the stuff of nightmares. For beyond the rumours of her iron nose, fangs for teeth, and house on chicken legs, is the story of a woman so wise and strong that she has to be cloaked in lies to hide her true power.

Our Review

"I knew who I was, a daughter of the Earth Goddess Mokosh, a sister, a vedma, a healer...I was a half Goddess, half mortal. I was Baba Yaga, and she was me." 

I am a big fan of fiction based on folklore and legends so when I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. The blurb reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale, a book I loved, so this also added to the appeal. Whilst The Witch and the Tsar is similar, it is also a wonderful book in its own right. 

Prior to reading The Witch and the Tsar I had heard of Baba Yaga frequently and always in a negative light. She was the wicked witch of fairy tales, someone to be feared. What I loved about The Witch and the Tsar is that it challenged these perceptions and painted her as someone who was misunderstood, the subject of viscious rumours. Viscious rumours spread by men. 

"Do I look like a baba? I was not a babushka, lying on my stove in the throes of advanced age and infirmity. Nor was I a hag, a demon or an illness. Nothing about me was ill or demonic or old, except for the occasional thread of silver in my wild black hair." 

This author has clearly put a lot of effort into researching the political and historical problems at play around this time and her writing is simply beautiful. 

"When my owl landed on my shoulder, I knew heartbreak was not far behind." 

When we meet Yanka she is living in her isolated home, far from mortals and the wounds they inflict on her. Her only companions are her owl 'Noch', her wolf 'Dyen' and her hut 'Little Hen.' Yaga only wants to help the ill and infirm but she has been betrayed too many times to trust that she can live among mortals. Men do not like unmarried, reclusive women with a modicum of independence, she must be a hag. 

Yaga is part mortal, part God. Her mother taught her the potions and remedies she now uses. Yaga is immortal, as are her sole companions, Dyen and Noch. 

One night the Tsarista of Russia, a one time friend of Yaga's, turns up at her door. She is suffering from a mysterious ailment and feels she may die. She is being poisoned. Yaga feels that strange forces are at play in Russia and she knows she must do something to help her friend and in doing so she must leave her santuary and venture out into the world of mortals, a world where fear and suspicion rule. 

"I was not fool enough to believe I had no need of mortals, but when I had tried to co-exist with them, they turned on me. To them, I would always be a witch, the cursed Baba Yaga hag." 

The Tsar and the Witch has so much contained within its pages. It is not just a feminist portrayal of a well-known figure, not just a historical fiction. It is the perfect cosy read for the coming winter weather. 





Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

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