- Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-358-00607-7 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-358-15730-4 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-6
Anya’s mostly peaceful village life was interrupted when her father was conscripted to fight for Kievan Rus’, but her family must still pay the taxes from which soldiers’ families are usually exempted, because they are Jewish. At risk of forfeiting the family home, Anya readily agrees when one of the tsar’s bogatyri (“humans who are imbued with magic power”) offers payment to search out an alleged dragon in the area. Anya runs up against creatures from Russian folklore and a cruel warrior who’s determined to slay the dragon before she can capture it. When Anya meets the dragon and the dragon assists her, she must decide—will she forfeit his life by turning him in to the tsar, or will she have to take a life to save him even though the Talmud says that “whoever destroys a single life has destroyed the entire world”? Pasternack eagerly depicts life in an tenth-century Russian village imbued with magic and folklore, riddled with many references to Anya’s family’s religion, their Jewish traditions, and the discrimination they face. The plot keeps readers on their toes with skillful pacing; the son of the bogatyr is a quirky, optimistic character, and the talking dragon is kind, young, and bemused by certain human practices in a humorous way that puts a spin on the usual dragon story without losing its excitement. Jewish readers may find kindred spirits in Anya’s culture, and fans of a Russian setting won’t be disappointed by this immersive novel that ends in justice.