Book Review: Baba Yaga’s Assistant

Rating: ratings-4

Emily Caroll = budget breaker

A photo posted by El Gosiengfiao (@elgosh) on

I swear, I end up buying anything written and/or illustrated by Emily Carroll no matter how tight my budget is. I spotted this interesting little graphic novel in the charmingly disorganized shelf of children’s comics and graphic novels at the back of Fully Booked Greenbelt 1.

The official blurb:

Most children think twice before braving a haunted wood filled with terrifying beasties to match wits with a witch, but not Masha. Her beloved grandma taught her many things: that stories are useful, that magic is fickle, and that nothing is too difficult or too dirty to clean. The fearsome witch of folklore needs an assistant, and Masha needs an adventure. She may be clever enough to enter Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs, but within its walls, deceit is the rule. To earn her place, Masha must pass a series of tests, outfox a territorial bear, and make dinner for her host. No easy task, with children on the menu!

Wry, spooky and poignant, Marika McCoola’s debut–with richly layered art by acclaimed graphic artist Emily Carroll–is a storytelling feat and a visual fest.

Coincidentally, this graphic novel was published in 2015 on my birthday, August 4. I think this is a sign that this book and I were meant to be together.

I found it a bit strange to see Emily Carroll’s illustrations paired with a rather sweet children’s story written by another writer. Maybe that’s because I’m used to her web comics and her own graphic novel, Through the Woods, which can be rather disturbing to say the least. Personal bias aside, Emily Carroll’s art and Marika McCoola’s words made for an unexpectedly effective combination.

baba yaga's assistant scan
Image taken from Amazon

While I really did enjoy reading this novel, the main reason I couldn’t give it a perfect rating was because of the plot. The story pretty much adheres to the typical fairy tale formula: Girl’s mother figures pass away, father marries another woman, girl doesn’t get along with her new stepmother and stepsister, girl encounters a magical being that offers her escape. It would also have been nice to learn more about the other interesting characters, like Masha’s grandma and Baba Yaga herself. But then, you have to remember that this novel was written for children 9-12 years old. Writing for kids of this age group can be tricky; you have to find the right balance between being simple enough for them to process, yet not too simple to the point that the story becomes potentially insulting to the children’s budding intelligence. While the story falls a bit flat, I do think Marika McCoola did a pretty good job for her debut.

baba yaga's assistant scan
Image taken from Amazon

I would recommend this novel to anyone who’s a fan of Emily Carroll, and anyone interested in urban fairy tales adapted from classic fairy tales or folklore. I skimmed through the reviews on GoodReads, and some were complaining about the art style – I think that’s only because Emily Carroll’s style is a bit of an acquired taste.

You can buy Baba Yaga’s Assistant on Amazon, where you can also read several pages in the “Look Inside” preview. You can also order a signed copy of the novel from Porter Square Books.

Learn more about the author (and view some of her own illustrations and sculptures) at www.marikamccoola.com, and you can read Emily Carroll’s full web comics at www.emcarroll.com.

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