Also, I wrote a newsletter recently about some 2018 favorites, not including books. If that’s of interest to you, check it out!
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
Marinka has grown up as a Yaga, traveling around the world with her Baba in their house with chicken legs. But that doesn’t mean she’s happy about becoming the next Guardian and guiding the souls of the dead. When she makes some rebellious choices and things don’t pan out the way she hoped, Marinka is left to figure what her place in the world can be.
I have a longstanding affection for the Baba Yaga stories, and therefore any take on that folktale has some interest for me. Also, I think some people I follow on Twitter liked this one, though now that I’m saying it, I don’t remember who they were.
Anyway, The House With Chicken Legs has an interesting premise and take on the folktale, with the Yagas becoming a loosely connected group who guide the souls of the recently dead to the next world. Within that premise, though, I struggled with a couple of aspects. First, if the Yagas truly travel through the whole world, I wasn’t sure why they would all have Eastern European names and apparent backgrounds. For myself, I really wanted some more depth and consideration when it came to the worldbuilding. Second, I found the general emotional tone and arc of this story to be fairly muddled. It wasn’t always clear to me why Marinka responded to events the way she did, and a lot of times she seemed to be rebelling against something without it being clear what that was. Because of this, the emotional payoff just wasn’t there for me, unfortunately.
If the premise sounds interesting, I’d still recommend giving this one a try. It’s entirely possible that it caught me on a grumpy day, or just wasn’t the book for me.
Olwen lives on the planet Isis with her Guardian, the only two people in the whole world. The landscape is dangerous, but she follows her Guardian’s rules and plays with her pet, Hobbit. Then a ship full of new humans arrives to settle the planet, just as Olwen leaves childhood behind. Suddenly everything she thought she knew about her world, the Guardian, and herself are called into question.
I’ve been trying to read some of the older books on my TBR list, and I knew this one was considered somewhat of a classic.
As it turns out, I’ve got a bunch of problems with this one! It’s startling to me to realize that it was only published in 1980, as it feels much more old-fashioned–and not in a remotely good way. There’s literally a magical negro child (aka the only one who understands Olwen) who is also described in fairly racialized language, Olwen herself is sexualized in a way that reads as really, really creepy in this year of 2018. And of course Olwen’s awakening to the differences between her and the other humans happens in large part because she falls in love with one of the teenage boys who’s part of the settlement.
All in all, while there a few interesting ideas in the mix, this book mostly just felt regressive and frustrating to me. On the other hand, I revisited The Book Smugglers’ review and Thea had a much different perspective than I did, so if you’d like to check out a positive take on this title, read what she has to say.
Previously, on By Singing Light:
An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet (2015)
The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier (2016)