Set in the days of yore in Eastern Europe, this charming tale features Serafina—intelligent and good-hearted third-born daughter—who unwillingly but gamely takes on the burden of an unexpected, unusual inheritance while also working to extricate herself and instead marry her childhood sweetheart.
“Welcome! You are the new Baba Yaga and the mistress of this house.” These words appear in an enchanted book that Serafina finds when her family sends her to visit Great-Aunt Sylanna’s cottage—replete with chicken legs and a talking cat—in Mala Kapusta. Serafina soon discovers her primary duty: Whenever a person visits her, they may ask one question, which she answers truthfully in an unsolicited, ancient voice, with knowledge channeled from magical wisdom. The book’s strength lies in its showing how Serafina uses her accumulating knowledge to effect positive changes in her own and others’ lives. There is an unconvincing thread about how she doesn’t think she will be able to convince her parents that magic exists; after all, scores of people line up for her sorcery daily. The book slyly combines fairy-tale tropes, such as a happy ending, with modern sensibilities, such as the advantages of literacy and the ravages of war.
Overall, the humor and relationships created by Baker are happily reminiscent of such classics as Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (1986), which is pretty good company to keep. (Fantasy. 8-14)