I interrupted my reading of Hugo-nominated short fiction to see just what exactly Leigh Bardugo was all about. See debut novel, Shadow & Bone was just released last week, and I’ve been seeing advertisements for it everywhere. When Tor.com released a short story that took place in the same world, I figured it’d be a great way to see what the fuss was, and to figure out if I wanted to read the book itself.
At first, I wasn’t all that sure what was so special. Folk & fairy tales are full of mysterious creatures eating or kidnapping little girls. Folk & fairy tales are full of wicked women marrying good men and then being horrid to said mens’ daughters. Yet there was a permeation of strangeness I picked up on while reading, a sense of not really believing the obvious answers the story was giving me because it didn’t all add up. I believed that Nadya was convinced of her theory, but something in me wasn’t buying it, yet I didn’t know it at the time. I kept reading.
I then started wondering if this might not be some kind of Baba Yaga tale, and I’m still not sure one way or the other if that is the case. I’m not as familiar with Baba Yaga tales, so unless it’s spelled outright, it’s easy to miss clues. Still, the passages in the witch’s cottage were quite compelling. The sensory detail was excellent, and sometimes a description would just really stand out, such as:
All night the gingergirl baked, filling the hut with a marvelous smell. Nadya knew she was smelling her own bones and blood, but still her mouth watered. She dozed. Near dawn, the oven doors creaked open and the gingergirl crawled out. She crossed the room, opened the window, and lay down on the counter to let herself cool.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but I really, really wish I could just freak out about it here, so everyone who’s read the story can freak out with me. We learn what the Witch of Duva is, and seemingly innocent things that were just lovely details at the very start of the story took on a whole new sinister and utterly creepy meaning. When the story revealed itself, my poor brain was flipping out, and as I kept reading, I grew more and more horrified.
The story was more than enough to make me splurge and order Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone when my husband asked if there was anything I wanted to add to his Amazon order that same night, so I’d say that the story was more than successful. Usually, I’ve been shying away from the Tor.com stories that were clearly promos for the books said author was debuting, but I’m really glad I gave this a shot, because the story stands on its own two feet and invites the reader to learn more about the world. I will say I wish the story had ended in a different place, without the narrator rather popping up out of nowhere. That was rather jarring. But it was still a very striking story, and I’m glad to have read it.
Now let’s hope the book is as good.