Egg & Spoon - Gregory Maguire

Oh my goodness, this is marvellous! Gregory Maguire, as always, continues to amaze me with his literary prowess (maybe that sounds a bit much, but I love his work!) Beautiful writing, rich setting,fully fleshed out characters, and fabulous twists on traditional Russian folklore make this a book that will stay with you for a long, long time.

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. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Full of traditional Maguire wit, Egg & Spoon is a gripping tale of adventure, magic, mistaken identities, and even some happy endings. The novel is richly detailed, such that the world of Tsarist Russia truly comes alive. And although the novel focuses on Ekaterina and Elena, Baba Yaga is the one who steals the show. Maguire's version of the crotchety, child-eating old witch is hilarious, witty, and nuanced is so many fantastic ways.
[Baba Yaga]: "Cook and Butler, Butler and Cook. I suppose you had someone to soap you in the tub too, lest your hands come into contact with your own personal grease."
[Ekaterina]: "Don't be disgusting."
[Baba Yaga]: "Don't dare me. I majored in disgusting at Gulag Community College. Lucrezia Borgia taught cooking, and Madame Defarge taught knitting. Emperor Nero taught violin and also led the cheerleading squad. I skipped all my classes and failed with distinction." 
That's some funny stuff there, right? The book is populated by a very odd cast of characters, aside from Baba Yaga, including the Tsar himself, Prince Anton, a talking cat, an immortal hen, mythical beings, and of course, Dumb Doma, Baba Yaga's infamous house on chicken legs. Though some reviews note the length of Maguire's book as a negative aspect, what it allows for is the development of each character in full. 

I love the historical components and the development of the Russian systems of hierarchy throughout. Some moments of exposition feel overly long, but on the whole there is nothing excessive within the book. What Maguire really excels at, however, is dialogue. As you can see above, the snappy back-and-forth is funny and irreverent and brings out Baba Yaga's immortality and her way of almost living outside of time and her wit is, at times, jarring against the historical setting.
[Baba Yaga]: "Is this the putative spouse-on-parade? He doesn't look old enough to play tiddlywinks, let alone know enough about life to entertain thoughts of marriage."
"I'm mature for my age," said the Prince. "You've no call to say that. I am skilled in life. I know all about suffering from my Dostoyevsky and my Balzac."
"You want suffering, I'll kick you in the Balzac," sad Miss Yaga. 
There is much to love about the book. Though descriptions are sometimes long, they do make for a rich and complex, well-layered tale of myth and magic, responsibility and adventure, want and need. I could go on for a while about all my favorite parts and give you example after example of hilarious banter, but I shall end here and let you get started reading the book for yourself!

Highly Recommended


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