“May there always be wine, may there always be smokes, may the jesters be kings and the kings become jokes.”
“I do not want you to think that what comes after is your fault. I do not want you to think that the ending could have been changed. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not mine, nor Baba Yaga’s, nor her daughters’, nor Haim’s, nor any of the market sellers’ faults. It is not our fault. Please, please remember, when the time for remembering comes. The fault, I beg you, I beg you, the fault is not our own.”
GennaRose Nethercott is a folklorist and poet. Thistlefoot (Anchor Books 2022) is her first novel, and oh what a beauty of a debut it is. I love the art and tradition of storytelling, and Thistlefoot is love letter to tradition, to the folktales, legends, and lore that are wrapped in history and memory and ghosts that still thrum in our bones even if we only remember them in nursery rhymes. Our blood sings with stories – it always has – and this novel is so clever, beautiful, and powerful.
A modern Baba Yaga retelling, the novel centers around the Yaga siblings and a surprising inheritance from Ukraine. Before receiving their inheritance, both siblings are struggling. Isaac, the Chameleon King, is living life as a vagabond, trading faces and conning his way across the US, his only companion a black cat named Hubcap that he cannot shake. Bellatine lives a rigid and structured existence – it’s the only way to control the “Embering,” a magic that courses through her blood, burning and tingling her fingers. They’re both broken people, wrapped up in grief and guilt, and both so alone. When their inheritance arrives, a walking house on legs that they call Thistlefoot, they are thrown back together.
Bellatine wants the house. Isaac agrees to give it to her provided she agree to take the house on tour, resurrecting the family tradition of puppetry and conducting shows across the US for a year. And so the siblings sets off. But they’re not alone. The Longshadow Man, a terrifying man of mayhem and destruction, has following the house from Eastern Europe and he continues to pursue it and the Yaga siblings. He wants the house, and he wants it and its stories and history to burn.
The novel is a wonderfully crafted folktale within a folktale that reminds the reader how important stories are. “An ember to lead you through the dark.”
“Raise the lantern.”
“Kill the ghost.”
Read this book.