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In the tradition of modern fairytales like American Gods and Spinning Silver comes a sweeping epic rich in Eastern European folklore–a debut novel about the ancestral hauntings that stalk us, and the uncanny power of story.
The Yaga siblings–Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist–have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive a mysterious inheritance, the siblings are reunited–only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs.
Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home in Russia–but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide–erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.
An enchanted adventure illuminated by Jewish myth and adorned with lyrical prose as tantalizing and sweet as briar berries, Thistlefoot is an immersive modern fantasy saga by a bold new talent.
The concepts that start Thistlefoot, the debut novel by GennaRose Nethercott, are based on the folklore character Baba Yaga, who lives in the forest in a cabin that stands on chicken legs. In the folklore, she can be friend or foe, her role being ambiguous depending on what is in the mind of the person seeking. This type of legend gives Baba Yaga all kinds of power. The story of Thistlefoot, is the story of Ballentine and Isaac Yaga. It starts with them inheriting the chicken-legged house, brought to America in one giant shipping container. This shipment is also followed by Longshadow Man, who chases them across the eastern half of America, with intentions of destroying them and the house. The huge fantasy adventure story starts with good concepts, but the execution was just average.
The characters of Isaac and Ballentine are interesting enough. They both possess powers that seem mythical to those around them. Isaac is called the Chameleon King because he can mirror and transform into anyone. Ballentine has the Embering, which brings objects, whether dead or never alive, to life. Even though Isaac is written as a scammer and a charlatan, there is something about him, a charm that makes people like him despite themselves. Ballentine is the opposite. Everyone likes her because she is a good person, trying to do the right thing, trying to live a small existence. They are both part of descendants of Baba Yaga, who’s motivations in every story is never completely clear.
When the the brother and sister meet up to get the house, they could not be more opposite, and by the end of the story, they grow as people because of each other. This is not from a desire to do so. Isaac wants to tour a puppet show with the house, an old routine called The Drowning Fool, simply to make money. Ballentine wants to resist, but he promises to give her the house when they are done with the tour. So her only motivation is the house. The two of them reluctantly go on an adventure together with this walking house on chicken legs. The setup and the uniqueness of these characters and this story gets bogged down in the writing.
I made it through the 435 pages, but those last 100 were a struggle. I wanted to do anything but finish the novel. It was not because I did not like the story and ideas, but it was because the story slowed to a crawl and then to almost a stop. I had to work harder to get to the end of this book than any book in recent memory. This makes it difficult for me to recommend reading this for other people. If they cut a hundred pages out of the novel, it might be one of the best novels all year. The language and the writing is breathtaking in some spots, but it just drones on for way too long. Even though this ultimately does not exactly work for me, I am interested in what Nethercott writes next, because she is immensely talented. The second half of the book just slows down way too much for it to be enjoyable.