Mary is an orphan who is adopted by a kindly old lady, Madam Z. For the first time since her family's death Mary has someone who seems to care about her. Her new guardian lives in a village full of fake practitioners of magic, but as time goes by Mary begins to wonder if some of the magic might be real. She also wonders if Madam Z is as harmless as she seems. Luckily Mary has a new friend in town, the son of a two-bit magician, and together they make plans to find out what is really going on.
I enjoy stories that draw on traditional folktales, especially cultures with which I am less familiar. This one is full of references to Slavic folktales, including, of course, Baba Yaga, but also Koschei, the Firebird, a Domovoi and others. Mary is a likable character, intelligent and brave, who is very wary of her new life and caregiver. Madam Z is also a complicated character, and I honestly didn't know, half way through the book, where the author was going to take their relationship. This is a great middle grade fantasy, exciting, interesting, and just a little scary. 273 p.