Review of A QUESTION OF MAGIC by E.D. BAKER
(review based on an advance reading copy)
This is one of those books I expected I would like, but - to my pleased surprise - ending up loving. The voice pulled me in immediately and presents a world similar to our own but not quite ours. Serafina’s thoughts and emotions combine universal elements with her individual priorities and passions.
The story opens with Serafina’s excitement over receiving a letter. Letters come rarely, so her entire family gathers round while she reads the unexpected note aloud. The letter’s from Serafina’s great aunt in another village, promising an inheritance. No one in her family has heard of this great aunt before, but they insist Serafina must go see about this inheritance. She soon learns - the hard way - that this distant relative is Baba Yaga and she has lured Serafina to her home as a replacement. Now Serafina becomes the new Baba Yaga, magically enchanted to answer the first question anyone asks her.
The premise didn’t sound that fascinating to me, but once Baker starts exploring this magic system - the inner workings; the rewards; the sacrifices - I found myself entirely fascinated. A QUESTION OF MAGIC is a slim book, but I would have happily read something five times as long following Serafina’s complicated exploits answering strangers’ pressing first questions. For a few examples of interesting tidbits: in terms of inner working, emphasis on first question. If a stranger asks Baba Yaga, “So I only get to ask you one question?” and she responds, “Yes, only one”…well, too bad for that stranger because that was in fact their one and only first question. As for rewards, people often bring Baba Yaga a gift when they visit. Her oracle abilities prove more self-sustaining than one might expect. Rather than money, people bring whatever Serafina needs, so she never wants for anything…at least not anything material. Sacrifices abound, but one glaring negative occurs whenever Serafina’s answer to someone’s question is negative and they resent her for delivering the bad news. I’m barely grazing the surface of all the intricacies of this magic system, which lends itself to discussion and naturally continues off the page and into the imagination.
By the end of the book, I decided A QUESTION OF MAGIC is a romance at the core and yet Baker understates the romance - crafting a tale more about someone finding herself before she can commit to being part of a duo. The loyalty and consideration both parties show each other warmed my heart and never felt forced.
Lack of control jumped out at me as the biggest theme running across this story, a universal theme with which many girls (and boys) this age (and other ages, both older and younger) can easily relate. Even if Serafina’s trapped by a curse, underneath the fantastical dressing it’s the same issue. My absolute favorite aspect of this book was how Serafina found ways to take control of her life against all odds and assert her own will and sense of ethics using nothing more than her wit and logic.
My only criticism is that I seriously underestimated Serafina’s age for a greater part of the novel. I estimated her age as anywhere between 8-12, based mostly on the cover depicting a girl who looks about such to me and a lack of her age being provided in the story (or if it was mentioned early on, I missed it). Later her age is clearly stated as 15, but before that revelation certain aspects of the story confused me.
A QUESTION OF MAGIC is a sweet tale of a young girl with a curse that supposedly decides her destiny and her determined resolution not passively accept that destiny but instead make her own.