4 out of 4 stars
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Vasilisa by M.L. Farb is the first book in the Hearth and Bard Tales series, but it is a standalone young adult book on its own. A retelling of a Russian fairy tale, this story takes readers on an adventure combining historical fiction and fantasy. Vasilisa is a servant girl unlike any of the other girls, with strength and stamina even greater than the boys. With wild red hair, she’s often referred to as an ogre child by the local bullies. Her only friend is Staver, the master’s son, who is a weakling in contrast to herself, and the two of them find themselves growing closer as they get older. When Staver’s mother attempts to keep the two of them apart, Staver devises a plan that will allow a commoner and a gentleman to marry, but his plan requires them to separate for six months. With war on the horizon, Vasilisa must learn who she really is in order to reunite with Staver once again.
Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of the tale of Vasilisa and Staver. I am so glad that this was my introduction to this fairy tale. I don’t know how this story compares to the original version, but I can’t imagine it being any better than this. My summary of the story above does not do the book justice at all. Unfortunately, there is no sequel to the story, as the second book in the series is a different tale, set in Japan. The common tie between these books is the bard who tells the story to a group of listeners. I imagine that the bard also has her own story that will be unraveled as the series continues.
Everything in this book is so well constructed. There is a reason why Vasilisa has red hair, a reason why a certain bully calls her an ogre, and a reason why Staver teaches her to play chess at one point in the book. It’s as if every single word within the text has a specific meaning that is revealed as the story progresses. There is a vast amount of symbolism within this book; I can definitely tell that the author put a lot of thought and research into telling this story in the most meaningful way.
It wasn’t until I reached the end of the book and began to reflect on it that I realized there was absolutely no profanity or scenes of a graphic nature (aside from some mild violence) within the book. Additionally, I found no errors whatsoever. The book is exceptionally well-written and professionally edited.
I can’t stress enough how much I loved this book. It’s a sweet, innocent romance with fantasy and magic, as well as history and adventure. I love it when books can combine genres like this. Top it all off with a strong female leading character who is easy to love and support, and you have one of the best books I have read all year. If there is anything that I didn’t care for in the book, it’s that there is so much going on within the story, and it’s easy to get lost in the fast-paced scenes. I had to re-read a couple of sections because I thought I had missed something important. Perhaps I was just so excited to keep reading that I was rushing through the pages, so I don’t consider this to be the book’s fault at all.
Overall, I am pleased to give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars at minimum. This is a beautiful fairy tale, and I doubt that any version of the story will be better than this one. Vasilisa is an amazing character, and I would love to share her story with other lovers of fairy tales and young adult fantasy. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of any of these genres.
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