A Jewish girl meets dragons in a fantastical version of Kievan Rus’, where magic has been illegal for 10 years.
Anya’s the only Jewish child in Zmeyreka. In the mostly Christian 10th-century village, Anya’s family stands out: Her father’s father remains pagan, while her mother’s people are refugee Khazars and Mountain Jews. But unbeknownst to Anya, her village is not like the rest of Kievan Rus’. Magical creatures are nearly extinct everywhere else but common in Zmeyreka. The tsar’s sent a “fool family”—users of fool magic, authorized to use magic despite the ban—to capture the last dragon in the land. The youngest fool is Anya’s age (he’s named Ivan, just like his seven older brothers), and the two become fast friends. But can Anya really bring herself to help Ivan kill a dragon that hasn’t harmed anyone? Zmeyreka’s magical creatures are both helpful and frightening; there are dragons, leshiye, vodyaniye, and even a Jewish domovoi with a little kippah. Ivan, unlike his pale father and brothers, is dark-skinned like his mother, a princess from “far to the east.” Though historical accuracy isn’t perfect (Anya anticipates her bat mitzvah, for instance, and reads Hebrew), it is a fantasy, and anachronisms don’t detract from the adventures of truly likable characters in this original setting.
This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions. (Fantasy. 10-12)