A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker

The First Round of the Cybils is done--I handed in the blurbs for Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction today, and I do hope you all like our list!   It will be announced with virtual trumpets on the First of January, over at the Cybils website.   

My Cybils reading ended up far outpacing my reviewing (which happens when you have a list of 149 books to read), and so I am left with many fine books on hand that I received for Cybils reading purposes, many of which deserve to be read widely and well.   One of these books is  A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker (Bloomsbury, Oct. 2013) which turned out to be my favorite of all E.D. Baker's books thus far. 

It is a reimagining of the Baba Yaga story.  After the death of the original bad witch, a string of young girls took her place over the years, heirs to her chicken-legged house with its fence of bones.   Serafina is the most recent girl to assume the mantle, and she does not want it one single bit.  She wants to peacefully marry her beloved, and live a simple life that does not involve magical responsibilities.  

For Baba Yaga, in this story, has the power to answer with the truth--one question per person per lifetime.   But for every question answered, Baba Yaga grows older, relying on a magical tea to restore her youth.  Lots of people have questions for her, from simple matters of the heart, to sweeping political questions....and so Serafina finds the truth coming from her mouth, finds herself in a cycle of aging and rejuvenating, and finds herself caught in the war that's swept through the kingdom.   And she misses her beloved something fierce, thought the skulls are friendly once you get to know them, and a magical cat who adds conversational spice.

Then the potion of youth is spilled.  The war grows worse.  And Serafina cannot refuse to answer the questions that keep coming...even though with each answer she grows nearer to death.......

But not to worry.  There is a happy ending.

What a nice premise is was, the whole question thing, and how nicely E.D. Baker used it!  There was just tons of variety in the questions and their consequences, and I enjoyed it very much.   With my mind still very much preoccupied with Christmas cookies, I would compare A Question of Magic to an American version of Pfeffernüsse (a sweet outside around a softly spicy inside).  Which may or may not be useful, review-wise, but there it is.

In any event, this is one I'd give in a sec to my nine year old self, in the absence of other handy nine-year-old girls.    It would not necessarily be easy to get a boy to read it--the cover is very girl marketed, what with the pink dress and the fairy (yes, there are fairies in the story) and, though I enjoyed it lots myself, I feel no need to insist with passionate conviction that my own son try it (but darn it, before he turns 11 I will get him to read The Runaway Princess, by Kate Coombs.  Maybe as a birthday present to me).

But A Question of Magic is good too.  Give it to fans of Diane Zahler and Gail Carson Levine (both obvious, because of also specializing in fairy tale retellings....), or to any girl who likes magical cats and has not grown too cynical for fairies.

Thanks, Bloomsbury, for the Cybils review copy.


  1. Oh my goodness, this sounds perfect for MY nine year old (girl) child, who is currently reading a Diane Zahler book she got for Christmas. And ack, spilled potion of youth!

    1. And I forgot to say--congratulations on the Cybils list-making and blurb-writing! Can't wait til they go up on Wednesday: always a highlight of New Year's Day.

  2. Lovely review! My nine year-old self was interested in battles and mysteries (the Hardy Boys were very popular, and I liked anything to do with Merlin or the Middle Ages), so I can't empathize as much about that demographic - but I may be interested for my adult, fairy tale re-telling loving self.

  3. Sounds like a different magical story. Thanks for sharing it. And Happy New Year!

  4. Aw. Thanks, Charlotte! And this one's on my shelf--thanks also for the review.

  5. I enjoyed this one more than I thought as well. I don't think I've read any of Baker's other books but they're a hit with my girls who love fairy tales.

  6. I must admit I have not done well with E. D. Baker in the past, but this one has SUCH an intriguing premise...and it sounds like it has some of the emotional intensity I found missing in her other books. May have to give this a try!


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