Baba Yaga's Assistant – A pseudo fairytale that blends present with myth

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

I have long been a fan of Emily Carroll’s distinctive art style, which I was first introduced to in the video game The Yawhg. Her beautiful illustrations fit perfectly with Marika McCoola’s wonderful pseudo-fairytale about a young woman named Masha, called Baba Yaga's Assistant. Masha feels out of place after her grandmother passes away and her father remarries a woman who has her own daughter. So, when Baba Yaga puts out an advertisement for an assistant, Masha decides to leave and try her hand at working for the terrifying witch of Russian folklore. Masha will have to use her wits and memories from her youth to thrive in her new profession.

The story blends present with myth and memory, and these different moments are beautifully conveyed in Carroll’s pictures, with different styles for each storyline. For example, when Baba Yaga’s bear attacks Masha, she recalls fairytales from her childhood in order to figure out how to dissuade him from eating her. The style or art changes, with the panels outlined with geometric designs, and the internal images appearing as abstract watercolors. Later, when Masha remembers moments from her past, the images are frequently rendered in duller colors, creating a hazy appearance that appeals to our sense of what memory “looks” like. At other points, the panels spill over into each other, pushing the story quite literally from one section to the next.

My favorite thing about the book is Masha herself, who is plucky enough to stand up to Baba Yaga, and independent enough to pursue her own path. McCoola expertly weaves together folklore with a more modern spin, creating a fairytale for the modern world, and Carroll’s lovingly rendered illustrations only add to the enchantment. If you’ve ever wanted to run away from your life and become a witch (or a witch’s assistant), this is the book for you. Curl up on a rainy day, and enjoy a story that makes you wonder where you’ve been and imagine where you might be going.

– Julia Pillard