Brief Description: A 12 yo girl, a member of the sole Jewish family in an Eastern European village, agrees to hunt a dragon in order to earn money for her family in this fast paced cross between Harry Potter and Slavic mythology.
Historical Era: Middle Ages
Date Range: 800s
Original Publication: 2019
Suitable for Grades: 3-7th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
Twelve-year-old Anya lives in a remote mountain village in Kieven Rus’ governed by a mean-spirited magistrate enforcing a distant tsar’s rules, including one outlawing the use of magic. Most of the villagers ignore this rule and use magic only to help themselves scrape by amid the absence of men, who have been conscripted to fight in a vaguely referenced crusade in the south, leaving the women, children and elderly to fend for themselves. Anya and her mother are the only Jewish people in the village and feel like outsiders.
Anya’s chore-filled life is boring until the arrival of strange foreigners looking for a rumored dragon, unusual because dragons are thought to have been driven to extinction under the tsar’s orders. Among these new arrivals is a family of fools consisting of seven sons, all named Ivan, who are allowed to openly practice their magic. The plot is set into motion when the eldest Ivanovich recruits Anya to help hunt for the dragon.
The author succeeds in telling a rousing fast paced adventure story laced with humor. She does not delve into historical details (hence the low historicity score) but rather portrays a small village society filled with immigrants from the north and south, such as Vikings and Persians, and filled with magical creatures from Slavic, Norse and Jewish mythology. The author so vividly describes the magical creatures that I felt like I was watching a movie, one that I hope gets made. There is no glossary of terms, so I found myself often googling the names of the mythical creatures such as leshy, vodyaniye and domovoi.
A fun activity would be to ask students to draw and color the mythical creatures and other characters based on the author’s description, to make a glossary for the book, or otherwise keep track of these different creatures. The cities mentioned in the text, Sarkel (Fortress) and Mologa, are also interesting to look up. I am looking forward to the sequel, Anya and the Nightingale!