Author: Katharine Orton
Release Date: April 14th 2020
Publisher: Walker Books US
Genre: Middle Grade | Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Goodreads Rating: 3.80 (of 211 ratings)
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After escaping a Soviet prison camp, Lina is pursued by a powerful witch and her shadow wolves in a riveting debut that imbues frozen wilderness with fairy-tale magic.
All that twelve-year-old Lina knows of the world is the Stalinist labor camp where she was born, a place of hunger, cruelty, and deprivation. After a daring escape into the frigid Siberian wilds with her best friend, Bogdan, Lina vows to reach Moscow and find her long-lost grandmother, whom she hopes will help her return to the camp to rescue her mother. But out in the dark forests and haunted tundras, Lina and Bogdan catch the eye of a vengeful witch, a refugee of oppressive new laws about magic, who commands an army of shadow wolves. She seems drawn to some mysterious power within Lina herself. Pursued by the witch and in fear of recapture, Lina will need every ounce of courage she has — and a whisper of her own magic — if she and Bogdan are to survive the journey and bring hope to a dark place. An enthralling debut that weaves Russian fairy tales through fast-paced adventure.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Walker Books US. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book.
When I saw the premise of this story, I instantly had to find out more. A middle grade story featuring World War II, a Soviet prisoner camp (which I didn’t know too much about nor had seen something like it in this genre), and witches?? It sounded like an enchanting middle grade book that I had to read.
We have a couple of different plots that were happening that ranged from the magical to the historical to the emotional. A Soviet prison camp is all that Lina knows, and she yearns to see beyond the fence. When she is given a chance, she takes it and makes her grand escape. This story follows her journey as she faces magical elements, the natural elements, and finding out who she truly is.
There is a lot of action in this story, and I think that might have been where I felt the strongest disconnect. You’re definitely going to never been bored with this story, because there is always twists and turns and something fresh and new being added into the story. However, I like to be able to catch my breath before something new is introduced, but I felt a little out of breath with all the actions constantly happening. I think it also affected the pacing for me as well, because even though we were going fast, there was so much that it oddly felt slow.
I did enjoy how the plot did blend the magical, historical, and emotional. This story was about Lina finding out who she was beyond the camp but still telling the story about the horrors of the Soviet prison camps and bringing the magic and whimsy that middle grade does best. Personally, I wanted a little bit more on the historical side, because I felt like I didn’t fully understand why people were in the prison camps and all of the background knowledge on the context of it. I think kids would have really benefited from a dash more of history of this horrible period of time.
Lina and Bogdan are our main characters – but the star is definitely Lina. There are other minor characters that pop up here and there, but we really focus on Lina and her best friend as they go through all the different trials and struggles. They’re definitely brave kids, and they go through so much. The witch that is mentioned in the summary is also a very interesting character. However, I did struggle with connection with them.
Like most middle grade, it did have a central theme. It’s definitely about finding the magic within and the magic outside in the world – even in the darkest places. This is a hard read in time, especially in the beginning with talks of the conditions of the prison camp. The atmosphere is dark and oppressive at times, and it honestly felt like the cover – one large cold, blustery wind in the middle of the night. Although this story did always have a sense of hope to go with the theme, it didn’t quite have that burst of charm and light that I crave from my middle grade stories.
Overall, I was enchanted with this premise, and there is definitely enough excitement to go around. However, I think I didn’t get as much magic in the delivery of the book as I wanted when I originally picked it up.
content warnings: prison camp
What do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments below!