Anya and the Nightingale, by Sofiya Pasternack

In Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack (2019), we were introduced to an alternate medieval Russia where magic is real, and saw young Anya befriend and protect Hakon, the last dragon, from a vicious agent of the Tsar who was determined to kill him.

In her second story, Anya and the Nightingale (November 2020, Versify) Anya, traumatized by the horrific confrontation in her first adventure, is still keeping Hakon a secret from her family and the townsfolk, aided and abetted by her friend Ivan. She has been expecting her father to return from the war in which he was unlawfully conscripted--as a Jew, he should not have been sent to join the army. 

At last she decides she can wait no longer, and so sets off to find him and bring him back. Ivan and Hakon insist on joining her. Fortunately, this somewhat foolish endeavor is given a chance of success when a friendly, magic-using ghost comes to their aid. She transforms Hakon into human form, gives Anya and Ivan each a gift in true fairy-tale style, and magically transports the three of them to the outskirts of Kiev, landing them on a forbidden road.

Anyone who travels that road is attacked by the mysterious Nightingale, whose sonic magic has foiled all attempts of the Tsar's forces to capture him.  And Anya and her friends are powerless against him as well.  They are rescued by the Princess Vasilisa and her cohort, and make a deal with her--if they can capture the Nightingale alive, she will recall Anya's father.  But of course they have no idea how they can do this, and the court of the Tsar is not a safe space, especially for Hakon, awkwardly adjusting to his human form--the Tsar would love to capture the last dragon.  And when Anya is sets out to meet the Nightingale face to face, she learns that though he is strange and magical, he is also a boy named Alfhercht trying to save his brother, imprisoned in the caves below the Tsar's castle, guarded by a tremendously evil and powerful monster.

Anya is faced with a choice--sacrifice the Nightingale to save her father, or help him save his brother. Guided by her father's moral precepts, she chooses the later, and she and her friends plunge into danger.

It takes a while for the story to reach that point of excitement, but the journey is worth it.  Along the way, Hakon struggles with his human shape, and with the loneliness of being the last dragon, living a life of hiding.  Anya meets a Jewish boy in the court of the Tsar, the first Jew outside her family she's ever met, and though the stress of her situation never is forgotten, the chance to visit with his family and experience their richly religious life is a joy and comfort (though somewhat awkward as well, what with the matchmaking pestering of little sisters...).  A sweet bit of lightness comes also from Ivan's romantic heart--he and Alfhercht fall hard in crush with each other. Alfhercht is deaf; this is matter-of-factly portrayed, and no obstacle to young love... 

Russian folklore, Jewish life lived under the shadow of persecution, as it was in history, magical beings, and faithful friends, and a heroine with a strong moral compass make this a lovely book. Though this story reaches a happy ending point, there's the clear possibility of a third adventure, and at this point I look forward to that possibility evenmore than I looked forward to this current book after reading the first!

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