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ARC was given by NetGalley & Black Spot Books in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published before the release date (November 8th, 2022)
Holy cow this was a doozy of anthology! 24 short stories about the one and only… Baba Yaga! It’s exciting, isn’t it?! This was truly a wild ride and definitely an anthology that won’t so easily leave my memory. Some of these stories are fantastic, others may chill your bones, but for me friends, I think I wanted this to be a little more than what I got. And let me tell you, there were moments where I got a whole lot that I didn’t even want. So buckle up, this might just be a wild ride for you too!
As always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts, feelings, and include content/trigger warnings.
➸ Foreword by Christina Henry ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Scene of animal death
This wasn’t anything too spectacular or anything. This basically just an introduction to Baba Yaga, if you never heard of Baba Yaga till now. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of anthology, that melting pot of the good, the bad, and the unsettling.
“She is a wild thing tied to the earth. She can be a friendly hand to a passerby or a monstrous one – a snake that can choose to strike or turn its fanged head away in mercy or indifference.”
➸ Dinner Plans with Baba Yaga by Stephanie M. Wytovich ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Implications of cannibalism and dead children
This was just an okay read for me. This felt like it clung tightly to the blueprint of the traditional tale of Baba Yaga, which is fine. I think I was just hoping for more branching away from the typical folklore about it and just wanting a little more. It’s still a good story though!
➸ Last Tour Into The Hungering Moonlight by Gwendolyn Kiste ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This was an eerie short story. I don’t even know how to properly describe it, but this one made my skin crawl. You’re in the perspective of someone moving/looking to move and you’re visiting this neighborhood, all the while Baba Yaga is whispering about. It’s a very eerie, chilling setting. Almost walking into a neighborhood where everyone is always smiling and happy. Yeah, that’s the creepy vibe it gives off. Very spooky and I definitely recommend a warm beverage for this one!
➸ The Story of a House by Yi Izzy Yu ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of animals, depictions of blood, gore, grief, scene of decapitation
This story messed me up in so many ways, both good and bad. I had never read a short story about Baba Yaga’s house and that was one of the things that always intrigued me about her folklore. I always wanted to know more about her house and how it came to be. This was a great interpretation of that and it was so good to read. Not a fan of all the animal horror, but still a good read.
“There, House remains to this day, half-asleep but with an open door.”
➸ Of Moonlight And Moss by Sara Tantlinger ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent (in the past), abusive/toxic relationships, depictions of torture recounted
I adored this story! This was one of my favorite stories of the whole collection. It gave a lot of renaissance era vibes for me. Not quite Camelot, but definitely in that time period. This was so good and I love the thought of Baba Yaga being someone who open their home to the broken and the unwanted/unloved.
“If you survive the bog, you may not survive the witch. If you do, beware of how sweet lies may taste. Beware the fate you accept.”
➸ Wormwood by Lindz McLeod ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, emesis, scene of hanging
This is a great story of the potential good side to Baba Yaga. When it comes to tales of Baba Yaga, I hear more terrible stories than I do good and this was nice breath of fresh air. I loved that she helped a grieving woman after a horrible crime has been committed and I love how mirrors have symbolism in this short story. It was an all around great read for me that intrigued the senses.
“They call her a witch. They call her a goddess. They call her a cannibal. But mirrors tell the wrong stories. And so do people.”
➸ Mama Yaga by Christina SNG ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Cannibalism, mentions of famine, loss of loved ones
Eh, this was an okay read for me. I enjoyed it, but again this circles back to what I mentions earlier, about a story sticking to an already made blue print. It just feels like an easy way of getting out of writing something that could have been much more. I would have liked a different twist or something. I don’t know, this was just an okay read for me in the department of Hansel & Gretel/Baba Yaga.
➸ Flood Zone by Donna Lynch ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Cannibalism, mass murder
Another okay read for me. I wish this had more to it, potentially some combat or someone finding out about the plot, but this just didn’t hit the mark at all. All this story really did was just remind me of how horrible and cruel people can be, with an unrealistic outcome that’s far too simple. I liked that Baba Yaga had a child or apprentice of her own, but I just wanted more from this story.
➸ The Peddler’s Promise by Catherine McCarthy ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions loss of a loved one, death of children, cannibalism
I think this was a unique way to write Baba’s tale of luring children from the safety of their homes. However, I think my biggest issue was the lack on conflict or confrontation with Baba. Honestly, the way this story goes just leaves you with a heavy feeling and I think if we had some conflict it would have made the story a little lighter. It just wasn’t a fun time. I went in intrigued and emerged feeling kind of heavy and sad.
➸ The Space Between the Trees by Jo Kaplan ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of grief, mentions loss of loved ones, mentions of murder, cannibalism
This is another take on Baba Yaga actually having a daughter, which I love this concept. This was really well written and it was interesting to see the parallels in approaching things between Baba and the daughter. I almost wish there was a different outcome for the ending, but that may be asking for too much.
➸ Sugar and Spice and the Old Witch’s Price by Lisa Quigley ⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Homicide
I’m going to be honest, I debated my rating on this one. This was just not it for me, at all. This is basically a short story of a woman who slowly descends into the calling of the forest and murders her whole family. Yeah, not what I wanted to read and definitely not what I was expecting. It didn’t so much see this as a Baba Yaga retelling or even anything related to Baba Yaga, if I’m being honest. It literally felt like the start of a mystery thriller book and was it’s own thing. This just wasn’t it and one of my least favorite stories in the anthology as a whole.
➸ Birds of a Feather by Monique Snyman ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Gun violence, bullying, gore, murder, death, violence, depictions of blood
This was fantastic! I was hooked the minute I started this! Who does love starting a short story running through the woods while people are shouting at you, hunting you down?! Delicious. A great way to capture the reader, hands down. I loved that the author also went with the balance and order approach for this story too. It really worked well with the flow and pacing, and just set the atmosphere up for the end game of the story. It was just a really great read!
➸ Water Like Broken Glass by Carina Bissett ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Drownings, scene of assault, war themes, death, murder
This was another fantastic read, as well! Plus, who doesn’t love some lesbian representation? It was delicious! This is a very unique story of how Baba Yaga exists and how one can become Baba Yaga, but it’s also about love and the extent of what one will do for love. It’s also a story about forgiveness especially when one is a river rusalka and has been doing the same things for so long. It was really well written and captivating. Hands down one of my favorite reads of this collection.
“She is Death incarnate. A creature that thrives on war, and her hunger is as bright as the full moon, as sharp as glass.”
➸ Herald the Knight by Mercedes M. Yardley ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Blood depictions, death of an animal, mentions loss of a child/miscarriage, death, scene of assault, gore
Yes, yes YEEEESSSSS! We get a short story with a black knight and I’m thriving! I love stories with black knights. I eat that goodness for breakfast! Can you tell that this is my favorite story out of all the short stories of the whole book? I love that we get a romance between a black knight, who hides his face because of his scars, and we have Baba Yaga, who’s young and doesn’t need anyone yet wants this black knight like a fire consumes charcoal. It was just so good and I enjoyed how well the two felt right for each other. It was spectacular, for me!
“The black knight watched her, instinctively knowing she ran toward something, not away from him, and it was no surprise when the forest closed itself behind her.”
➸ All Bitterness Burned Away by Jill Baguchinsky ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Indications of an abusive relationship, implied starvation, murder
Now THIS is why the Hensel & Gretel retelling meets Baba Yaga works! First, Baba Yaga’s house being a cat/acting like a cat was so delightful. Yes please, I would like more Baba Yaga retellings where her house is a cat house, please and thank you! I love this concept more than I do the bird house concept. Secondly, this book ties in the element of Baba Yaga being good, but also adopting children as her own and removing them from an abusive situation. I thought this was handled really well and it was done in a way that was satisfying to read. This was just everything I wanted and I got a big boost of serotonin from reading this story.
➸ A Trail of Feathers, A Trail of Blood by Stephanie M. Wytovich ⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Grief, brief mention of a dead animal, implied child sacrifice
This left an unsettling chill in my spine and not the good kind of chill. I want to express that this story many be triggering for readers whether you’re a parent or not. This story kind of smacked me out of left field and the way the ending plays out is not a good one. It’s a cruel, messed up ending and honestly, if I had known the the content warnings in advance, I would have skipped this one to spare my sanity.
➸ Baba Yaga Learns to Shave, Gets Her Period, Then Grows Into Her Own by Jess Hagemann ⭐⭐
Horrendously repetitive! Holy cow this one chipped away at my sanity relentlessly. My biggest pet peeve is repetitiveness in books and ‘like this‘ is repeated so much in this short story. I had a hard time focusing on other details because it just came off as a mother talking down to a teenager and it was just so annoying. The story as a whole was incredibly annoying and for the most part, that’s what this story is, a mother talking down to her child, giving her the same verbal cue. We only see something in relation to Baba Yaga till the end of the story, literally the very end of the story. It just wasn’t a fun time for me.
➸ Fair Trade by Jacqueline West ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Underage drinking, death, grief
I liked the concept of this at first and then it just felt like a Baba Yaga version of Freaky Friday. While that’s not a bad thing, it just didn’t really work for me, personally. I came to read a Baba Yaga retelling, not a short story that only has two scenes of Baba Yaga in it and focuses on someone I didn’t really feel any connection to. The story is really well written, but that’s about the only thing that really stood out for me.
➸ Stork Bites by Ev Knight ⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mention of current events (Roe v Wade), talk of postpartum depression, emesis, drugging, graphic scene of abortion, brief implications of rape, cannibalism
HELL to the NO! This was not it, at all. If I wanted a graphic scene of abortion, whether there were fantasy elements or not, I would go read/listen to those who actually went through that because at least then I’d know what to expect or I could prepare myself mentally and make sure I’m in a good headspace. I don’t like things come out of left field and chipping away at my sanity especially when no one can be bothered to give content/trigger warnings in advance. This is the last thing that I wanted in a retelling. It was disturbing to the point of that scene inducing nausea. No thank you, next!
➸ Chicken Foot by Octavia Cade ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Dead animals, animal experimentation
I think the part that’s going to haunt me the most is the canary legs making screaming sounds as the wind blows through them… ANYWAY, this was another interesting take on Baba Yaga’s house and how it becomes what it becomes… a bird house. It was a really interesting approach to take a more scientific route with the story, but it was good. I’m just not a fan of animal experimentation.
➸ Where the Horizon Meets the Sky by R. J. Joseph ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Sex, death of a loved one
This story has a very modern day feel to it, but add a little kick of zombie near the end. It was interesting to see things play in a way where Baba Yaga was word focused. Every thing Baba did in this story was done in a way of how the person spoke about what they wanted. It was a really interesting take and I think this could have been it’s own novella.
➸ Maw Maw Yaga and the Hunter by Alexandrea Weis ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Gore, scene of dismemberment, death
This is my first time hearing a Cajun retelling of Baba Yaga! I really enjoyed this and was so captivated of how things would play out. There was a moment where I thought things would turn out differently, but it didn’t. All I can really say is I would have love a full novella of this short story. It was really good and I think it could stand on it’s own.
➸ Baba Yaga in Reprose by Heather Miller ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is very detail heavy and it takes a hot minute to get to Baba Yaga, but it feels very much like Sleeping Beauty. It’s a really interesting was to set the whole story up, but I love the concept of these beings from folklore and fairytales to go into a slumber as the world moves on into modern day. I think this was such an interesting way of capturing that and I enjoyed it a lot.
➸ Shadow and Branch, Ghost Fruit Among the Lullabies by Saba Razvi ⭐⭐⭐
This was a nice way to close out the collection. However, my issue is that it gets repetitive really quickly and as I’ve mentioned before, repetitiveness and I don’t get along. It’s very well written and it can be captivating for the right reader, it just wasn’t me. Still a lovely, spooky way to close everything out.
I gave Into The Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga three stars overall, because out of the possible 120 stars (5 stars being possible for all 24 stories) this anthology accumulated 80 stars (67%)!
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.