This is the last review of the year unless another book sneaks in from the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. A stunning copy of The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore arrived on the bookshelf courtesy of Random Things Tours. As usual, when a witchy book arrives there was a scrabble between the staff to see who would read it first. Willow won.
Scroll down to see her unbiased and honest review.
Book Review: The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore
Title: The Witch and the Tsar
Author: Olesya Salnikova Gilmore
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Historical fantasy, folklore
Release Date: 8th December 2023
As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.
As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.
Thoughts from the Emporium
The stunning illustrated cover with its golden gilt reflects the majestic tale inside. This reimagined tale of Baba Yaga is a beautifully written and captivating novel. Willow was gripped by the extensive world building, the depth of all the characters and dramatic plot. As someone who was unaware of the folklore connected to Baba Yaga this was a refreshing read. The language and vivid descriptions brought the colourful Russian cities, the horror of war and the scheming gods to life.
This version of the immortal witch, Yaga was far removed from the hateful, child eating witch she’s famous for. Instead, she was portrayed as a caring and reluctant hero. Her strength, chemistry between those she loves, including the animals she can charm, and her desire to protect the Motherland at all costs, makes her unforgettable. In the uncertain times we live, the politics of the sixteenth century and the war it fuelled felt oddly relevant and made the story more impactful.
Everyone at the Emporium adored Little Hen, her house on chicken legs despite the initial reaction being disgust. As a background character, she stole everyone’s hearts.
Olesya Salnikova Gilmore has successfully blended an inverted Yaga legend with the history surrounding Ivan the Terrible to create an immersive, dark and enlightening treat that will be well loved by those visiting the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. It is a strong contender to be one of the bookshelf’s favourite novels of 2022.
Olesya Salnikova Gilmore was born in Moscow, Russia, raised in the United States, and graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in English /political science, and from North western University School of Law with a JD.
She practiced litigation at a large law firm for several years before pursuing her dream of becoming an author. She is happiest writing historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Eastern European folklore. She lives in a wooded lakeside suburb of Chicago with her husband and daughter. The Witch and the Tsar is her debut novel.