Published: August 4 2015
Number of pages: 469
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: folklore, adventure, magic, mystery
Rating: 2/5 owl hoots
Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father died, the Tsar army took one of her brothers while the other was taken as a servant, and her mother is slowly dying. There is no food in their tiny cabin.
But a train arrives, and Elena meets a girl name Ekaterina, a girl of wealth and status and is the same age as Elena. When the two girl’s lives collide, an adventure is set including an escapade, a case of mistaken identity, a childish prince, and a witch of Russian folklore.
An interesting story about how two girls with opposite lifestyles accidentally switch roles and live in each other shoes. Included are characters inspired by Russian folklore which was another reason I was attracted to this story as I do love reading folklore from different cultures!
The characters were the best part of the story: they’re interesting and charming and well portrayed. Elena Rudina, a poor peasant girl living in the countryside and Ekaterina, a rich socialite girl who meets Elena by passing after an unexpected train stop to Elena’s home country. Both of these girls are opposites of each other and not just their lifestyle. Elena is kind, compassionate, sympathetic, and helps in anyway she can for her family. She learns to look after herself but after being raised in a poor countryside, she can be naïve about the outside world. Ekaterina is the spoiled rich girl, ignored by her parents, and lives in wealth and luxury. She can be snobby and condescending most of the time, but she also shows acts of kindness after meeting Elena by chance. I was also fascinated by the witch Baba Yaga, inspired by Russian folklore that is like an old grouch but with a weird sense of humor.
The story started off with a strong start after we’re introduced to Elena and Ekaterina, and it was so exciting to watch the two surviving on their own after their identities were mistakenly switched. Ekaterina peers into Elena’s life and her home only to learn of the struggles her family is suffering from. Elena on the other hand, turns from poor peasant girl to a wealthy lady surrounded by opulence, but this doesn’t last long not until she accomplishes her own personal mission as a last hope of saving her family. Watching the girl’s adventures through Russia were the fun parts, but after 300 pages in, the rest fell apart for me. There were several moments when I started asking myself “what is the point to this scene?” After asking myself that last question several times, I slowly started losing interest of the story that I couldn’t wait until it ended.
I love the characters, they’re different and charming but I still have mixed feelings about the plot. After I started the book, often I would say to myself “what a good story!” but after finishing part 4 out of 5, I found my interest with the plot slowly slipping away as there were quite a few scenes that were indistinguishable and didn’t fit with the story. I understand how the last scenes were inspired by Russian folklore, but I felt like they were crammed into the last 100 pages. The story had its funny and interesting moments, but the ending dragged on for too long that I immediately lost interest. The ending does come with an important lesson about humanity that we should all take into account. Other than that, I didn’t love the story as I hoped.