Thursday, August 21, 2014

ARC Review: Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Title: Egg and Spoon
Author: Gregory Maguire
Read: June 2014
Published: September 9, 2014 by Candlewick
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Synopsis: In this tour de force, master storyteller Gregory Maguire offers a dazzling novel for fantasy lovers of all ages. 

 Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg — a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and — in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured — Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.

**** I received a copy of this book from the publisher at BEA for an honest review in return. This fact has not changed my opinion ****

This is the kind of book that defies genre specifications. I read it in June as part of my retellings theme, and while it includes elements for Russian folklore like Baba Yaga and the Firebird as well as a Prince and the Pauper vibe, there's so much more. It has elements of Historical Fiction, Fantasy, and even some distinctly dystopian elements. One things for sure, there's just something fun and entertaining about this book.

I have some experience with Gregory Maguire. I'm a big fan of the Wicked Years series and his combination of retellings with darker elements and political intrigue. Those themes are present in Egg and Spoon but unlike his other books, the target audience for this is much younger. The tone of the book is almost light-hearted with a unique narrative style. It's a third-person perspective by someone who is a secondary character in the story who comes of as an unreliable narrator giving a color commentary of the main characters actions. It was unlike anything I have experienced and really added to the fun and light-hearted feeling of the book.

But where Maguire really shines is in creating interesting and entertaining characters. Most notably in this book is the fabled witch Baba Yaga. I couldn't help but laugh out loud with her behavior and snarky comments throughout the story. But even better was her surly cat Mewster who was the perfect foil to the almost silly witch. In addition to those secondary characters, our two protagonists were very likable and interesting with great character arcs throughout the story. I was particularly attached to Elena, the peasant girl trying to find and bring home her brother who was taken off to fight the Tsar's war. Throughout the story both her and Ekaterina, the wealthy socialite, were faced with incredible hardships and eventually realized what was truly important to them.

I did however have some issues the with the plotting of this book. There were so many moving parts of this story and they didn't all work for me. They also didn't all seem important. I'm used to fantasy and mystery novels where small things become major later on but in the case of Egg and Spoon, small things were just mentioned offhand and then what appeared to be larger things were almost abandoned. There were a lot of different things happening at the same time and it only served to muddy the waters so to speak. But maybe that was just the nature of the book.

The most interesting thing was the combination of many different kinds of stories. I'm a big russophile and I loved the backdrop of the Tsarist regime with Russian mythology in a dystopian vibe.  This book perfectly fits into this months theme of Historical Fiction as it takes us through the goings on of rural and urban Russia under the Tsar. There's definitely some elements of politics involved but that's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm not all that familiar with the stories of Baba Yaga and the Firebird (which I learned about from the Grisha trilogy) but after reading Egg and Spoon I wanted to know more. Gregory Maguire brilliantly used their tales to explain a phenomenon which felt like a global warming allegory. I didn't quite pick up the Fantasy elements however. There was something fantastical at work but there wasn't much of a magical system unlike a lot of Maguires other work. Maybe that's because I'm a snob about that sort of thing. It was however wonderfully creative and added the the fun and interesting nature of the book.

I give Egg and Spoon an 8.5 out of 10

I would recommend this book to fans of complex and light-hearted retelling, someone looking for a book where they can laugh out loud but still think, and those who love Gregory Maguire and his combination of fantasy and politics. The audience for this book has been often talked about. Whether it is for more of a middle grade or young adult audience is unclear but one things for sure, it is fun and entertaining book that defies classification.

Have you read Egg and Spoon? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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