Thistlefoot is intriguing, suspenseful, and beautifully written Baba Yaga retelling with Slavic and Jewish folklore.
Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott
Publiaction Date : September 13, 2022
Publisher : Anchor Books
Read Date : January 22, 2023
Genre : Paranormal / Retelling / Magical realism
Pages : 448
Tea for this book : Black Tea + Lavender Tea
Disclaimer – Many thanks to PRH International for eARC via NetGalley.
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In the tradition of modern fairytales like American Gods and Spinning Silver comes a sweeping epic rich in Eastern European folklore–a debut novel about the ancestral hauntings that stalk us, and the uncanny power of story.
The Yaga siblings–Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist–have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive a mysterious inheritance, the siblings are reunited–only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs.
Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home in Russia–but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide–erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.
An enchanted adventure illuminated by Jewish myth and adorned with lyrical prose as tantalizing and sweet as briar berries, Thistlefoot is an immersive modern fantasy saga by a bold new talent.
Baba Yaga retelling with Slavic and Jewish folklore
Thistlefoot is a unique and beautifully written Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged house retelling inspired by Jewish myths that follow estranged siblings, Baba Yaga’s descendants, Bellatine Yaga and Issac Yaga, who inherits the chicken-legged house of Baba Yaga after 70 yrs of her death. They name it Thistlefoot.
Bellatine is a carpenter, wishes to have a normal life and settle with the house but ever the wonderer Issac doesn’t and asks her to buy him out and for that they come to an agreement, they revive and tour their family’s famous puppet show, The Drowning Fool, for a year throughout America, Issac gets to keep the money and Bellatine the house at the end of the year but it wasn’t only Thistlefoot that came from Russia to American. A sinister villain, Longshadow Man followed the house to America unleashing poison and violence among people with the intention of killing the house. It was interesting to find out who is the Longshadow man and how he is connected to the house and Baba Yaga.
+I loved the plot and concept. There is the theme of multigenerational and familial trauma, power of stories and memories, painful cruel history of pogrom, emotional reckoning gives lots of depth to plot making it poignant and thought-provoking.
+/-Writing it beautiful, flowery, and poetic to a point that you wish to get lost in the purple prose. The narrative is unique. Present timeline is third person narrative from Issac and Bellatine’s perspective but the past of the house and of Baba Yaga was told by Thistlefoot through stories that make it a stories within story. Thistlefoot tells the story of its origin in different versions along with how it met Baba Yaga, what is his and Baba Yaga’s history, and what make it alive. There is also The Fool’s story, the show they play, how the Fool originated. While I loved the writing and unique narrative style, I could see it might not be for everyone and why some readers DNFed it. Moreover, the pace is slow and stories within story sometimes make it confusing and hard to get how they interconnect with each other.
+The setting of New Orlean and other places Issac and Bellatine visit for the puppet show tour is well written but what makes this retelling different is Baba Yaga’s connection to the plight of Jews through historical setting of pre-WWI Gendenkrovka, now known as Ukraine, a hometown of Baba Yaga and how this small town was destroyed in Pogrom.
The characters’ personal stories were well written. Bellatin is a responsible person, living an honest life. She sees her gift of being able to give life to animate things with memory and story as a curse because of how her parents viewed and treated it. The only person who didn’t care about her gift or never made it big deal was Issac and when he left her and their parents’ house without any note or goodbye, it was hard for her to deal with her gift and abandonment issues. I didn’t exactly get why she feels her gifts are curse until it was revealed what more she could do with her gift and what she experienced. It was great to see how she overcome the fear of her hands and her gift and started to see it in a positive light.
Issac is an actor, doppelganger, and thief who could shift into any person’s face and body and he made it a means to earn by hosting shows in streets that gave him the name, Cameleon King. He is selfish, manipulative, and coward which makes him unlikable but he is hiding a lot behind his uncaring personality that also makes him interesting. He is an amazing observer, he follows his gut feeling and he knows how to get out of situations and turn them in his favor. He is also hiding the pain of loss and is drowning in guilt. It was interesting to see why he felt responsible for the death of his best friend and how he could finally deal with the loss.
-Both characters are complicated. While I liked reading both siblings’ childhood, their fear and struggle, their gifts, how they see it and how it changed their life… I feel there still isn’t much depth. There is lots of judgment and assumptions from Baellatin’s side and I don’t think from her perspective and looking at Issac’s nature, she was very wrong in it but what makes me annoyed is they don’t talk to each other. They understand each other throughout the book by observing each other’s reactions. Looking at the amount of time they spent together, half the time of it was about getting over the abandonment from Bellatine’s side and getting the house ready for the show and Issac shape-shifting to avoid his migraine. Their lack of conversations made me care less about them. I cannot decide who I liked most as their actions kept changing my opinions about them. It wouldn’t be wrong if I say both stayed estranged throughout the book.
– Secondary characters are good but we don’t get to know them well. Shona’s story was told in less than a page while we don’t get more than few lines for Rummy and Sparrow.
+ I liked Winnie and Thistlefoot the most. The objects given life were much more filled with life and wisdom than the humans of the story!
+The Longshadow man creates lots of suspense and make the story creepy and atmospheric. It was clear he was connected with Progom but how he connected to Baba Yaga or the house was hard to guess until it was revealed. Baba Yaga’s magic was also different from other retellings I have read.
+ Climax and the end is perfect. All questions were answered. I wasn’t expecting what Issac did and what happened to him and for a minute I couldn’t get the purpose of the whole event but it made much more sense later when the fool told the final version of Thistlefoot story which made it even more uncertain and hard to defeat the Longshadow man. It was amazing how Issac used his experience of the happening in defeating The Longshadow man. I liked the end and loved how all the events happening in this last few pages changed Issac and Bellatine.
Overall, Thistlefoot is intriguing and beautifully written Baba Yaga retelling with Slavic and Jewish folklore but the characters and confusing narration style make it okay for me.
I recommend this if you like,
unique Baba Yaga retelling
theme of multigenerational and familial trauma
history of pogrom
Slavic and Jewish folklore
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