Many thanks to Random House Children’s, Knopf Books for Young Readers, and NetGalley for the ARC. This book is being released today, December 1 2020.
My Rating: 4 stars
If A Wolf for a Spell had existed when I was a kid, it probably would have been one of my favorites. This Middle Grade novel based on Russian fairy tales has everything I could possibly want: wolves, magic, a plucky young heroine, and (did I mention?) fairy tales. It’s a story that will entrance any fantasy loving child and that’s equally enjoyable for adults. It also features gorgeous illustrations by Finnish artist Pauliina Hannuniemi (check her out on Instagram). I am officially obsessed with her art. It’s so beautiful! Look at that cover! The illustrations match the story perfectly. I’d love to see what they look like in a print edition instead of on an e-reader.
My favorite thing about the book was, of course, all the fairy tale elements. Readers familiar with even just the most basic Russian fairy tales will recognize Baba Yaga, her hut, the gray wolf, and Ivan. There’s also a slight nod to “Vasilisa the Beautiful” with Katerina’s magic doll. However, I wouldn’t quite call this book a retelling. From what I can tell, the plot is entirely original, and Sutton puts her own take on the familiar characters. Zima is entirely different from the Gray Wolf who appears in Russian fairy tales, and Sutton opts to use Baba Yaga as a magical helper rather than as a villain. This isn’t unprecedented in fairy tales; she appears as a helper in several tales, but it seems she’s more well-known as a villain.
The story is told in the limited third person, and we rotate between Zima, Nadya, and Baba Yaga as the point of view characters. It was great to see three strong female characters working together due to their love for the forest. Zima was my favorite, mainly because I love wolves but also because of her dedication to protecting her family and home. I also loved that Baba Yaga is included as one of the three major protagonists. A character like her would usually be a side character, someone to give the heroine information and help her out of a few scrapes. Having her as a point of view character was fantastic.
I did feel the development of certain characters was lacking a bit. By the end, I knew Zima and Nadya and even Katerina quite well. I never quite felt the same way about Baba Yaga; I wanted to know more about her. But the lack of development was most noticeable in the villain, Tsar Aleksander. He feels flat and just evil for the sake of being evil. I never got a good idea of his motivations. This didn’t bother me too much because it is in keeping with the fairy tale feel of the novel, but I would have liked to see a little more.
Overall, A Wolf for a Spell is a beautifully illustrated fairy tale that is perfect for any fantasy loving child and can be enjoyed just as much by an adult.