November 29th, 2014

Review: Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Egg and Spoon
by Gregory Maguire

In a desperately impoverished village, Elena Rudina struggles to feed her sick mother. Her father is dead; her brothers driven away by poverty and the demands of the Tsar. With no food and allies in the same pathetic position, Elena has little hope of improving her situation. Then a train breaks down in town, and Elena catches the attention of Ekaterina – “Cat” for short – the wealthy girl being brought by her great aunt to the Tsar’s grand ball. After a sudden accident, the two girls find their roles reversed. Elena impersonates Cat and settles into a life of luxury while the former princess struggles through the rough life of a Russian peasant child. Events are thrown into further chaos when Cat stumbles across the lair of Baba Yaga and they discover that one of Russia’s great magical beings, the Firebird, has gone missing. This disaster threatens to unravel Russian and unseat the Tsar if they cannot locate and restore the missing bird, setting in motion a great quest that will either save Russia or destroy the world.

Combining The Prince and the Pauper with traditional Russian folklore, Maguire crafts a modernist fairy tale immersed in the weight and beauty of Russia tradition. This world is one where a house can walk on chicken feet, an enormous dragon sleeps trapped in ice, and matryoshka dolls come to life to dance with toy soldiers. The trademark lyricism and precision of word choice that hallmarks his writing is in full force, and it suits the fairy tale atmosphere very, very well. The only nod to modernity is the wise-cracking Baba Yaga, who exists out of sync with time and constantly slips anachronistic slang into her speech. She’s a bit weird and unhinged, but would you want her any other way? Of course not.

The story is narrated by a monk, imprisoned by the Tsar for a crime left unrevealed until near the end of the novel. He makes little comments and observations to the reader, comparing the lives of Elena and Cat to traditional Russian folklore and his own life experiences. It honestly doesn’t add much flavor or character to the narrative. No, the monk’s asides merely slow the pacing in key scenes in a manner distracting rather than dramatic.

If given a choice between reading the novel traditionally on paper or listening to it via audio book, please do yourself a favor and go with the novel. I read the first few chapters and quite enjoyed them, but when I spotted the audio CDs at the library I decided to check them out so I could listen to the story on the road. While I’m sure narrator Michael Page will entertain small children with his flamboyant, energetic performance it comes off as too silly and cartoon-like to work for an adult listener. I ended up going back to the print story because I just couldn’t take his strange theatrics.

Poor narrator choices aside, it’s a decent adventure story. I enjoyed it far more than Maguire’s Wicked series. The two girls are very realistic, created with the prejudices and attitudes appropriate to their class and then forced to grow beyond their normal boundaries. Baba Yaga is always entertaining, and her magical world melds so seamlessly in the wild Russian woods with the “real” world that you do end up believing, if only for a few minutes, in ice dragons and firebirds.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Egg and Spoon, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: Happy Thanksgiving!
2012: News: Shopping For Pearls in a Bookstore?
2011: Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
2010: Happy Thanksgiving!
2009: Going on hiatus...
2008: What books are you hoping to receive during the holiday season?