An imprisoned monk narrates this fabulist tale from Maguire, which draws inspiration from Russian folklore, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, while incorporating a modern thread about the threat of climate change. On her way to be presented to the Tsar’s godson, wealthy Ekaterina is marooned in a rural village when a broken bridge stops her train. Peasant Elena approaches the luxurious train to beg, and the two girls take tentative steps toward friendship; when the train starts moving again, the wrong one is aboard. The journey to their eventual reunion brings Ekaterina in contact with legendary witch Baba Yaga. Though the setting is circa 1900, Maguire’s riffs are mostly contemporary: Baba Yaga complains about regifting, owns the original cast recording from Damn Yankees, and bemoans that she’s out of “Granny Yaga’s Frozen Tater Tots, made from real tots.” Like the matryoshka doll Elena carries, there are a lot of layers to Maguire’s story. Rich, descriptive language will reward readers who like to sink their teeth into a meaty story. Ages 12–up. Agent: William Reiss, John Hawkins and Associates. (Sept.)
Two girls switch identities while colliding with Baba Yaga and the Firebird in Czarist Russia. Elena, a child of rural Russian poverty in the town of Miersk, is desperate to help her ailing mother and to recover her older brothers, Alexei, at work for another family, and Luka, conscripted into the czar's army. Her determined journey finds her life suddenly swapped with that of Ekaterina, also 13, a daughter of privilege. Plot details include a pilgrimage to Saint Petersburg to meet the czar and his godson, Prince Anton, a Fabergé egg, a Firebird's egg, a legacy of matryoshka dolls, and the powerful presence and proclamations of Baba Yaga. Maguire, a veteran writer of reimagined traditional tales for a new world, jauntily explores themes no less profound than hunger and satiety, class and influence, and the sharing of resources in a world wracked by climate change. While not without flaws—a bit protracted, cluttered, overly grand and infused with some metafictive moments that occasionally take the reader out of the story—this is an epic rich with references, aphorisms and advice.An ambitious, Scheherazade-ian novel, rather like a nesting-doll set of stories, that succeeds in capturing some of the complexities of both Russia and life itself. (Historical fantasy. 12 & up)
Though the story bears some marks of a heroic quest, it is really a series of dreamy, expertly painted vignettes, set pieces both absurd and spectacular. … Maguire’s wit is shown to best advantage when in sync with his lush whimsy… In this surfeit of myth and mayhem, there are also moments of poignant quiet, when the grand quest of saving the magic of Russia recedes. In these moments, the human comes to the fore, and our focus narrows once more to a child longing for a parent, a mother longing for a child, the aching burden of living through suffering that life demands again and again. … It is impossible not to root for girls and watches and aunts alike, and to cheer their little victories as acts of grace.
—The New York Times Book Review
Maguire marries the traditional “Prince and the Pauper” narrative to the Russian folktale of Baba Yaga with his trademark wit and aplomb. His lyrical descriptions of the drab countryside are equally detailed and moving as the charmed, floating courts of the Romanov dynasty. Each character is well-drawn and fascinating... The author weaves a lyrical tale full of magic and promise, yet checkered with the desperation of poverty and the treacherous prospect of a world gone completely awry. Egg and Spoon is a beautiful reminder that fairy tales are at their best when they illuminate the precarious balance between lighthearted childhood and the darkness and danger of adulthood.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
An epic rich with references, aphorisms and advice. An ambitious, Scheherazade-ian novel, rather like a nesting-doll set of stories, that succeeds in capturing some of the complexities of both Russia and life itself.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Like the matryoshka doll Elena carries, there are a lot of layers to Maguire’s story. Rich, descriptive language will reward readers who like to sink their teeth into a meaty story.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Maguire savors every inch of his elaborate narrative, introducing tropes from Russian folktales and giving his characters plenty of play, especially the hardboiled Baba Yaga, who seems to exist outside of time (and is akin to Maguire’s other witches). The plot meanders, developing everywhere at once yet always intriguing. ... [T]here is so much in his rich and consistently surprising prose that young readers will ... enjoy the gift of his magical story.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
Set in Tsarist Russia, Gregory Maguire's suspenseful story conjures the folkloric figure Baba Yaga—a hilariously acerbic old witch—and incorporates fantastic creatures such as the Firebird, an ice-dragon and a talking cat, to create a fairytale saga that will delight and challenge its readers. ... Egg & Spoon's phrasing and vocabulary give it a classic feel that reflects its folktale roots, as does its storyteller-style narration. ... An excellent choice for younger readers who are reading at more advanced levels. Alternating and ultimately interweaving story lines add complexity to the plot, which is driven by an enticing mix of mystery, danger and magic.
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
Although Cat and Elena’s burgeoning friendship and determination make for a heartening story, it’s Maguire’s Baba Yaga, full of irreverent anachronisms and a salty attitude, who steals the show... Maguire’s fantastical world is filled with Russian folklore and history, particularly the growing unrest that eventually led to the October Revolution, and ... the whimsical tone and lush setting are ... plenty appealing.
The story flows easily although it includes uncommon vocabulary and an uncommon setting. However, the characters of Russian folklore are what captivates and holds the reader; especially Baba Yaga, who is ancient, modern, and futuristic, at the same time.
—Library Media Connection
Gregory Maguire's novels have never lacked for audacity. ... Now, taking on the rich tradition of Russian folk tales, he has allowed himself even greater extravagance in "Egg & Spoon." ... Somehow, Maguire transforms the wildness of his story into a commentary on the chaos and injustice of our own world — a sort of folkloric news of the day.
Even minor characters have flesh and blood, and brilliant cameo moments. ... The writing, frankly, is brilliant. ... It is common enough for a novelist to be able to plot intricately. It is common, even, for novelists to write as lyrically as poets. It is rare to find both qualities in the same novelist. ... “Egg & Spoon’’ is thoughtful, engaging, and theatrical in the deepest sense. This is one of those young reader’s books that may be gifted to any ardent reader of almost any age, as long as they’re open to the possibilities of wonder.
—The Boston Globe
The author of 'Wicked' wows with a magical tale set in the Russian countryside, complete with wisecracking witch Baba Yaga, she of Slavic folklore fame.
[Maguire] plays with Russian folk tales, with a delightful nod to the ever-wicked, ever-beguiling Baba Yaga. ... A somewhat imaginary Russified landscape, complete with magic matroishkas, and a healthy helping of playful language ... make the story here a delight.
—Globe + Mail
Maguire weaves themes of class struggle and environmental upheaval into an engaging and relatable tale. This isn’t a story about desolation, but one of hope. Elena and Ekaterina prove that with a little tenacity and bravery, people can change their lives for the better.
The author writes nimbly.
—The Wall Street Journal
This historical fantasy is as big as Mother Russia. ... A grandly sardonic masterpiece.
—San Francisco Chronicle
A true literary gem.
—San Antonio Express News
Maguire conjures up one sumptuous image after another... A novel as intricately and colorfully detailed as Cat's Faberge egg.
—The Columbus Dispatch
So much swirls through this blizzard of a novel that it's easy to get (delightfully) lost in it. ... The adventure dashes along so compelling on its chicken legs (like Baba Yaga's enchanted house) that it's more than worth a read.
The story ... [is] richly told [and] contains important lessons about wealth and inequality. ... Part fantasy, part fairy tale, part adventure, this is a children's tale also directed at grown ups — or one perhaps best enjoyed together.
An exciting nesting doll of a novel, entertaining and rich, steeped in Russian folklore. ... Fantastic, detailed and lush, like an exquisite lacquer box.
A rich and layered story, full of gorgeous images and sentences, a matryoshka doll sort of tale. ... This fabulous witch of Russian folklore is a fabulously written character, funny, scary, wry, and just about everything possible in Maguire’s capable hands. ... The plot is unique and complex, swirling around in highly unusual directions. It is staying with me and the more I mull it over the more I love it. ... A unique and wonderful read.
—Monica Edinger, Educating Alice blog
A lush and literary tale.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
A great, long, lose-yourself-in-it story sparkling with the magic of Russian folklore. ... Witty and thorough in its imagining.