With the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher mere weeks away from dropping, an article about books inspired by Slavic myth and folklore seems more than appropriate. Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series borrows heavily from this lore, and there does appear to be a recent spike in fantasy literature that follows in suit. Granted, the spike itself is not likely because of Sapkowski’s work, there might still be readers of his series who might be interested in reading other work that pulls from the same mythos.
With that in mind, here are five books that resonate with Slavic mythology and folklore.
1. Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles
image via amazon
Written by Taisia Kitaiskaia, Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles is a compiled book of advice columns written by Baba Yaga, a witch from Slavic folklore who is known for being maternal and helpful to some, but also ruthless to others. She lives in a house that walks on chicken legs, and she has teeth made of iron. She flies around in a gigantic mortar and uses the pestle to steer herself through the sky.
Kitaiskaia, going off of the fact that Baba Yaga is an ancient figure who has seen much and lived much, writes in the style of Baba Yaga extolling advice to folk who mail her life questions. Her words can be cryptic at times, which forces readers to really sit and think on what she is saying. Often times, her advice might come in the form of an allegory, and her wording also demands that readers absorb what she says and sometimes reread that advice column in question. Alternating between stern words for those who might need a wake-up call, to maternal words to strengthen those who are struggling, Baba Yaga provides advice that isn’t just applicable to the people who asked the questions, much of what is said here can be relevant to others as well.
image via amazon
Written by Naomi Novik, Uprooted is one part a loose retelling of Rapunzel, one part a dive into Slavic mythos and magical lore, and wholly birthed from the vivid imagination of the writer. Uprooted follows the main character Agnieszka, a girl who hales from a valley that is on the border of a dangerous magical forest that corrupts both people and animal, turning them into proxies that this evil magic can enact violence through. Every ten years, the local sorcerer, the Dragon, will visit the valley to choose a girl to stay with him in his tower, where he has her clean and cook for him in that time. The actual reason behind him doing so is revealed later on in the novel. While living with the Dragon, Agnieszka learns that she, too, is able to wield magic, and she is one of the few who can actually interpret and cast the spells from a book written by Baba Jaga, a spell caster who fell out of time.
Whilst trying to learn how to use her magic in a way that is entirely her own, Agnieszka is also called upon to figure out a way to stop the forest from corrupting and harming more people and, ultimately, swallowing up the entire kingdom.
3. The bear and the nightingale
Image via amazon
Written by Katherine Arden, The Bear and The Nightingale is the first book in a trilogy, and it weaves Slavic and Russian folklore together to create this narrative. This book follows Vasilisa, a girl whose name comes straight out of the fairy tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful.” Arden’s protagonist is confronted with several life-changing obstacles after her father brings home Vasilisa’s stepmother–a woman who wishes to either marry Vasilisa off, or to send her to a convent. While dealing with her stepmother’s cruelty, Vasilisa must also learn to control her magical powers.
This story invokes creatures from Slavic myth like the Rusalka, a water spirit who was once a human, and the Domovoy, who is a household god. There are many other beings who appear in this book and are inspired by Russian and Slavic tales.
4. Wicked Saints
image via amazon
Wicked Saints, by Emily Duncan, is the first book in a trilogy that deals with vampires inspired by Polish legends and a pantheon of deities that can be traced back to a distinctly Slavic source. This story follows three protagonists: Serefin, a blood mage; Nadya, who can hear the gods; and Malachiasz. The world that they inhabit has been ripped apart by war, and naturally, these three main characters will have a role in defining its future.
As can be assumed from a world that is war-torn, there is a great deal of violence in this narrative. This is not mentioned here to dissuade potential readers, but it is meant to be a word of caution before you start reading. The characters have constantly been referred to as “morally grey” by both critics and Goodreads reviewers, so if you enjoy fantasy stories that do not fall strictly within the good-evil binary (I know I most certainly do), then this might be the story for you.
5. Finding Baba Yaga: a short novel in verse
image via amazon
Finding Baba Yaga: A Short Novel in Verse, is the second book on this list that Baba Yaga plays a key role in. Written by Jane Yolen, this novel is completely composed of free-verse poems that details how the protagonist, Natasha, leaves her family and eventually finds her ways to the witch’s house. Entirely told from Natasha’s point of view, this story primarily centers on how she gains her voice and a presence in her own personal narrative.
This is an extremely short read, and it can easily be completed in one sitting. Yolen’s portrayal of Baba Yaga, reveals her to be a distant magical being who, simultaneously, acts as a motherly figure who encourages the girls who come to live with her to grow into strong, autonomous individuals.
Featured Image Via shri-boomer
Bookstr is community supported. If you enjoy Bookstr’s articles, quizzes, graphics and videos, please join our Patreon to support our writers and creators or donate to our Paypal and help Bookstr to keep supporting the book loving community.
Become a Patron!