I randomly picked this book up at ALA—mostly for that GORGEOUS cover—and then I found out it’s written by a local Utah author! I was so excited! Of course I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did.
Title: Anya and the Dragon (Anya and the Dragon, #1)
Author: Sofiya Pasternack
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Genres: MG Historical Fantasy
I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Headstrong Anya is the daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of Fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough—until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.
Anya and the Dragon is a historical Russian tale with magic and dragons, fools and heroes, wars and small towns…and one determined 11-year-old.
After Anya’s father is sent to fight for the Tsar’s war, Anya must go about her little world as if nothing is wrong. Her mother is getting old, they are running out of money, and the magistrate of the town wants to kick them out of house and home. So Anya is determined to do something about it—go find the illusive river dragon in her small village and capture it. I immediately connected with Anya’s voice, and her predicament. She’s so practical and smart, but has a strong moral compass that leads her. I enjoyed seeing her grow as she learned new things and thought for herself in her predicaments.
The secondary characters in this book are fantastic as well. Ivan, the seventh son and eighth Ivan in his family, is a tad bit ridiculous in his ideals, but a very good friend to Anya. The dragon we meet in this story has a surprising personality, and gosh I loved it so much. The goat shenanigans are hilarious. The diversity in religions (Anya is Jewish and Ivan is Christian), ethnicities, and ideals was wonderful to see as well.
The research put into this book makes the details and setting utterly exquisite. The Russian fantasies I’ve read recently have all been set in winter, but this one was in summer, and I loved the change. I also loved the worldbuilding done with the magic system as well—the magic is fun and fantastical that feels familiar but with a twist.
This is the perfect book for kids who love fantasy (and especially dragons), but are looking for something a little bit different. The additions of a diverse ethnic and religious cast along with a fun plot and headstrong heroine make this MG fantasy a stand-out.